For elevating inclusion—for employees and customers—at the world’s largest e-tailer
As part of her work improving user experience on the massive site, she sees inclusion in two ways.
“It means you’re building things that work for everyone. Another side of inclusion is building things for a particular group, recognizing it has a unique experience. Some customers shop for hair care differently than others, so we can build something for them,” Howard explains, referring to the Textures & Hues shop on Amazon.
“So while you build something for a particular group, others can also be delighted by it,” she adds, pointing to closed captioning: “It helps with accessibility, but a lot of people use it in their day-to-day lives.”
Along with her product role, Howard has served as the 2019-20 president and current adviser for Amazon’s Black Employee Network (BEN). One of Amazon’s 13 “affinity groups,” BEN helps drive recruitment and retention, along with professional development and networking opportunities.
She led and founded the BEN Startup Week, Amazon’s Black Excellence Gala and the BEN scholarship. The latter awards US$5,000 a year for college tuition to students pursuing a degree in computer science—and pairs them with Amazon mentors. Most recently, she helped launch Rise, a program that helps Black employees at Amazon move into executive roles.
Howard says that in 2020 “at the height of protests following the murder of George Floyd and racial reckoning,” Amazon partnered with BEN to donate US$10 million to organizations supporting racial justice and education. BEN also fast-tracked BEN Startup Week to better support small business, entrepreneurs and founders. “We had over 7,500 attendees, more than we’d ever had.”
Her efforts at Amazon illustrate how organizations must shift away from old mindsets to ensure inclusive initiatives deliver real benefits.
“Diversity in tech is an industry problem, but that’s not a valid excuse. The status quo is a very low bar,” Howard says. “Companies have to be willing to be introspective and see where they might unconsciously exclude certain groups. They have to be intentional and willing to change based on feedback. And they have to put inclusion first. Some companies focus on diversity first. But if the culture is not inclusive, the talent won’t come, or they’ll leave within a short time frame.”
Advice to My (Even) Younger Self
We asked the Future 50: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?
You don’t have to have it all figured out. Follow your passions, not what society tells you to do. You belong in all the places you’re invited to, and you can break down the doors to the places where you know you belong. —Angelina Howard