EXCLUSIVE: Amazon uses diversity and inclusion to build business innovation

Employee Benefits Live 2019: E-commerce giant Amazon champions diversity and inclusion not only as the right thing to do, but as a business decision aimed at improving creativity and the inventive mindset of its 30,000 full-time UK employees.

Closing the conference agenda on day one of Employee Benefits Live 2019, keynote speaker Ben Farmer (pictured), head of HR, UK corporate at Amazon, said: “The more diverse voices, ideas and experiences we can learn from, the better. At Amazon, diversity starts with understanding that we need to be creative and flexible as we strive to foster an inclusive working environment for employees, especially as their circumstances or needs change.”

One way in which Amazon fosters this inclusive workplace culture is through its employee affinity groups; these are voluntary, employee-led communities that staff members are free to join.

“Our employee affinity groups are a great example of knowledge sharing, passion for [organisational] culture and creative initiative in action. Affinity groups are designed to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace by identifying key values and taking organisational goals forward,” Farmer explained.

The organisation operates a number of these networks; for example, it houses a female talent group, a group for military veteran staff and a disability affinity group, to name a few.

These groups also contribute to Amazon’s internal policies; for example, its LGBT network, Glamazon, worked on the organisation’s transgender guidelines that launched last year.

The business is also working to improve its gender diversity, in part through its Amazon Amplify programme, which launched in March 2019. This aims to increase female representation, using measures such as bias training, inclusion-related interview questions and training schemes to support employees’ with the demands of their personal lives.

Amazon’s focus on diversity links in with its ‘day one’ organisational culture. This encourages staff to treat every working day as if it were the first day within a new start-up business; Amazon believes this helps to drive innovative thinking. This further connects with Amazon’s four guiding principles: customer obsession, passion for invention, long-term thinking and operational excellence.

Farmer firmly believes that diversity has a meaningful impact on business success and Amazon’s bottom line. “Diversity is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good for business. For [an organisation] like Amazon, innovation is crucial to our success and diversity helps to drive that innovation by giving us new ideas and a better understanding of customers’ needs.

“True inclusion is not about ticking boxes or achieving diversity quotas. We want to build a culture of voices that feel confident in speaking up, so their ideas are heard and considered both within Amazon and the wider community within which we operate. By aligning our day-to-day culture with our [organisational] mission, every voice is welcome and valued.”