The Amazon Woman

Does leading “the Amazon way” backfire on women?

The New York Times’ write-up on Amazon has revealed insider details about its “purposeful Darwinism” workplace, raising concerns about the retailer’s internal operations and organizational culture.

CEO Jeff Bezos has made no secret of it: Amazon is not an easy place to work.

When Bezos founded Amazon in 1994, he codified his ideas for the workplace into fourteen leadership principles that described how “Amazonians should act,” in order to avoid the corporate pitfalls of big business. He believed that potential threats to success included “bureaucracy, profligate spending, and lack of rigor.”

Side-stepping manners and questioning all decisions based on facts is how Amazonians arrive at the “right answer” (No. 13 on Bezos’ code of conduct: “disagree and commit”). In other words, Bezos not only rewards but celebrates ruthlessness in the workplace.

Amazon describes their ideal employees as speedy “athletes” who are dedicated to their work and innovations. They are told to “think big” and be “bias for action” (No. 7 and 8).

Amazon hires en masse, sifting through thousands of candidates in search of the “bar raisers” (No. 5: “hire and develop the best”). But what is a bar raiser and how does Amazon identify those who meet their high standards?

The “rank and yank” system, similar to its work culture, is based on precision, measuring employee performance and productivity exactly, yearly eliminating those who rank at the bottom – the majority of which are women.

This system encourages aggressive leadership behaviors (disagreeing with colleagues, ruthless scheming, and sabotage) which are typically associated with masculine characteristics, thus hindering women’s attainment of intangible promotion criteria such as, “earn trust.”

As one Amazon employee noted, “Being too forceful, they said, can be particularly hazardous for women in the workplace.” While others believe the system of continuous employee improvement, “the way it drives them [employees] to drive themselves,” is the genius of Amazon – but some female employees are finding it difficult to get ahead.

What are your thoughts on this? Does leading “the Amazon way” backfire on women? How do you lead and earn respect at work without being “too forceful”?

My unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism, or ageism, or lookism, or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.

— Tina Fey

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Jessica is an employment specialist for marginalized youth in Toronto, Canada. She enjoys teaching, traveling and observing - especially the relationship between mind and heart. Jessica also has a passion for outdoor walks, dancing, and all things offbeat and authentic. You can contact her at

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