Winning Secrets: How Amazon Web Services drives inclusivity at the core of its DNA

The team at Amazon Web Services (AWS) took home the bronze award for Best Women Leadership Programme at the Employee Experience Awards 2022, Singapore.

In this interview, Sandra Teh, Culture Evangelist at Amazon Web Services, APJC, affirms the journey that earned this win — a programme led by women employees to provide a platform for women in tech to connect with like-minded peers; mentorship programmes involving senior leadership, and more. 

Q Congratulations on the achievement! Could you take us through the highs and lows of your winning strategy?

A big thank you to the organising committee for recognising AWS in the ‘Best Women Leadership Programme’ category, we are truly humbled. Our core objective is to create an inclusive workplace so that employees, regardless of background or gender, can bring the best of their skills to build and invent on behalf of our customers.

The journey to hiring the right talent is often a challenging one. At AWS, we have always over-indexed on hiring right, rather than hiring fast. This is why we created the Amazon Bar Raiser programme, where we bring in an interviewer at Amazon (a Bar Raiser) who is not associated with the team, to be an objective third party during the hiring process. This ensures that the best long-term hiring decisions are made, and we are bringing onboard new talent who are passionate about delighting, surprising, and building for customers.

Q Understanding and meeting your employees’ needs and expectations is never an easy feat. How did AWS identify the business & employee needs, and craft the perfect solution? 

We need to constantly engage employees, and listen to their concerns, aspirations, and expectations. At AWS, we have a daily poll, where every Amazonian answers a workplace-related question. The data provides real-time insights and feedback to managers on how our employees feel.

In the context of empowering women across our workplaces, we first reach out to hear from them about how we can make their work experiences better. After that, we ensure that subsequent programmes address their challenges so that women feel welcomed and empowered at work.

One of these is the AWS She Builds programme. Conceptualised in 2017, She Builds is led by our women employees who organise industry talks and workshops to provide a platform for women in tech to connect with like-minded peers and explore opportunities to increase their technical and strategic skills. This has also expanded to include mentorships across Asia Pacific-Japan, with over 7,000 registrations to date.

Q How did the strategy add to the overall employee experience at AWS , in terms of ROI, when it came to fruition? Share with us the benefits of having such a strategy in place.

Our efforts continue to pay off and be recognised within the industry: Amazon currently ranks #2 in the Fortune World’s Most Admired Companies list and was selected by Fast Company as one of the Best Workplaces for Innovators.

As we work to achieve gender parity in tech, it will take approaches that are based on empathy, permission to learn and experiment, allyship, and data to recruit, develop, and retain talent.

Q Could you offer some recommendations to your peers across industries for implementing something similar for their own EX foundation? 

More than having an inclusion, diversity, and equity policy or programme, inclusivity needs to be at the core of an organisation’s DNA.

To increase the representation of women in technology, mentorship programmes that are supported by and involve senior leadership are critical to ensure the success and representation of women talent in the boardroom.

At AWS, one of our leadership principles is ‘Learn and Be Curious.’ This is particularly important in driving inclusivity and in instilling confidence in employees to try new things, with a wide-scale acceptance of new ideas across the organisation without questioning one’s gender, experience, or educational background. As an organisation, we believe that a good idea can come from anyone, and we have the mechanisms in place to encourage - at any point in time - hundreds of good ideas from our builders. 

Q If you were to reflect, what is one thing you’ll do differently in executing this strategy? 

We are always looking at how we could have done better or improved in our efforts. One area is that we could have kickstarted certain initiatives earlier or run smaller pilots before implementation. At Amazon, we believe in the Day 1 mindset where we treat every day at Amazon like it is the first day at a new startup.

This means focusing on what the present and future call for, making the best decisions that we can in the present moment, which might be different than what made sense previously, so that we can continually embrace present challenges and opportunities and remain agile and resilient.

To do so, we make it a point to have more conversations, and ensure more two-way, instead of one-way decisions. We believe this is key to encouraging our employees to be even more courageous when it comes to experimenting and pursuing new ideas.

Q Looking ahead, how is AWS going to take this winning strategy higher and further in the coming years? 

If we have learned anything over the last few years, it would be to be ready for anything, continually listen to our customer’s feedback, and see around corners before blind spots become roadblocks.

While ensuring that while we stay agile and resilient as an organisation, we continually keep people in the centre of all that we do. People remain the greatest strength of any organisation, and thus our investments in them need to be our top priority. We make sure that they have access to training and ongoing development to stay on top of in-demand skills relevant to the industry, so that they can innovate with confidence.

Q 10 years down the line, where do you see the future of HR? 

At AWS, we will continue to focus on multicultural and multigenerational diversity, which I personally feel, is really exciting! 10 years from now, our early career talent will become experienced tech professionals while our seasoned and tenured Amazonians will continue to develop our future talent, drawing on their rich experiences, while learning from their younger peers.

As organisations continue to evolve with new technologies, ways of workings, and business models, there will be inherent changes in the needs and demands of the workforce. HR will continue to play a vital role in shaping how organisations remain competitive in attracting and retaining talent. This would be in driving measurable value even as organisations increase the adoption of digital technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, and cognitive solutions. The crucial key ingredient, however, is continually listening to our employees to ensure that we are building and reinventing for our customers in relevant ways.


Photos / Provided (featuring Sandra Teh)

Read more interviews on why organisations have won trophies for their HR practices - head over to our Winning Secrets section!  

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