A recent behind-the-scenes feature piece by The New York Times on Amazon's workplace culture has sparked discussion on how far a company is willing to go to in the name of ambition.
On Wednesday, Julia Cheiffetz, a former Amazon employee, came forward with her personal account of her time at the company. Cheiffetz worked as an editorial director for Amazon Publishing from 2011 to 2014, during which time she gave birth. Six weeks later, she was diagnosed with cancer.
Cheiffetz wrote that she underwent surgery while on maternity leave, and had to deal with a bevy of employer-provided insurance issues that she chalked up to "a horrendous administrative error."
Then, five months later when she returned to work, she was startled at what happened:
After a five-month leave, I was nervous and excited to return to work, and I showed up that first day back with a big smile and a phone full of baby pictures to share. I figured I'd catch up with folks and get a high-level update on how the business was doing, since the strategy had evolved from the time I was hired. Here's what happened instead: I was taken to lunch by a woman I barely knew. Over Cobb salad she calmly explained that all but one of my direct reports — the people I had hired — were now reporting to her. In the months that followed, I was placed on a dubious performance improvement plan, or PIP, a signal at Amazon that your employment is at risk. Not long after that I resigned.
Cheiffetz's story is similar to those that the Times reported.
Journalists Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld wrote of how employees praised Amazon for challenging them to achieve their full potential. But many also spoke of the take-no-prisoners mentality among their colleagues, and how multiple employees who were stricken by cancer or faced personal crises had their work performance and positions downgraded — exactly what Cheiffetz wrote happened to her.
According to the article, founder Jeff Bezos introduced and encouraged a corporate culture that placed its customers above all else, and at the expense of its employees' wellbeing.
Bezos responded in a memo to his employees that he did not recognize the workplace described in the article, but Cheiffetz's post on Medium laid bare the same unforgiving culture that the Times reported about.
Now an executive editor at HarperCollins Publishing, Cheiffetz has one message to Bezos.
Make Amazon a more hospitable place for women and parents.
"Women power your retail engine," she wrote, adding that Amazon should reevaluate their parental leave policies:
You can't claim to be a data-driven company and not release more specific numbers on how many women and people of color apply, get hired and promoted, and stay on as employees. In the absence of meaningful public data — especially retention data — all we have are stories. This is mine.
Many companies have acknowledged the importance of their employees' wellbeing, particularly to those whom parenthood is a new experience.
Earlier in August, Netflix was lauded for a new policy change that offered unlimited maternity and paternity leave. The company follows in the footsteps of other generous parental leave policies offered by a number of giant corporations, Google and Facebook among them.
Currently, the U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that does not offer mandated parental policy leave. Amazon may be one of the most successful companies out there, but if it's failing to regard its employees with respect and dignity, that's a flaw that needs to be addressed, should the online retail giant truly want to aspire to greater heights.
Cover image via Tommaso Boddi / Getty Images.