The Women at Amazon affinity group is an employee-led community that empowers women and non-binary people to thrive at Amazon and AWS. The group’s initiatives include mentorship programs, events for education and women empowerment, and corporate advocacy.
Members work closely with local chapters to address the most important issues in each region, ensuring the voices of their community are heard and real changes are made. Members are passionate about educating and empowering others and believe in the importance of supporting and inspiring other women in their careers.Research supports that investing in the development of women is valuable not only for diversity of thought and reaching a wider customer base, but also for retaining valuable and talented female leaders. The Women at Amazon affinity group plays a crucial role in creating inclusion across Amazon and AWS organizations, and its programmatic support is important for the retention of female leaders.
Life at AWS chatted about the affinity group’s mission, programs, and current priorities with Sydni Steen, a strategic program manager on the AWS Industries Digital Innovation team and vice-president of the Women at Amazon global board of directors, and Kris Howard, AWS head of developer relations for Asia Pacific Japan, and the Asia Pacific (APAC) regional lead for Women at Amazon.
Life at AWS: Tell us about the work that the Women at Amazon affinity group leads and why this work is important to the group.
Sydni Steen:Women at Amazon Global focuses on issues that women and non-binary individuals face in the workplace. We have initiatives around mentorship with our SPARK program, events that educate and empower our community such as our Leadership Series, and working with our global chapters to empower them to make local changes. Each year, we do a “think big” intake to hear from our community on issues they want addressed and we source our goals based off those ideas. This is crucial to our success and reach because it keeps our customers—our community—top of mind. We work to ensure these voices are heard and work to influence real change both internally and externally.
Kris Howard:At a regional level, Women at Amazon supports our members and mission through localized chapters. Each local group has their own sponsors, board, vision, and tenets, and they run their own events and programs to address the issues and goals that are most important in their region. To give you an idea, I’ve spoken to chapters that have focused on donating menstrual products in their communities; chapters that have launched mentoring and sponsorship programs for aspiring leaders; and chapters that run monthly online book groups.
What motivated you to get involved with Women at Amazon?
SS:I have been volunteering the last four years with Women at Amazon (as long as I’ve been employed here), because of the community. I am wildly passionate about educating and empowering others, especially women, and jumped at the opportunity to become involved with the events committee. I am a voracious reader and being able to bring in female authors to speak to our community and spread knowledge was a dream. Getting feedback on how those speakers led to women embracing different aspects of themselves or feeling more confident has fueled me.
KH:I joined my local chapter in Australia not long after I joined AWS. As a woman in tech, I’ve been a minority throughout my career. I learned along the way how important it was to support other women, and to not “pull the ladder up” as you climb the ranks. After two years as a member, I relocated to Germany and realized that my local Women at Amazon chapter was a great way to make new friends. I learned of the global board’s new Europe, Middle East, Africa (EMEA) regional lead position and decided it was time to give back to the community. I’ve been on the board for almost two years now, and recently changed positions to APAC regional lead as I’ve moved back to Sydney.
"It is crucial that women continue to inspire other women and be honest about hardships so we can lend helping hands and support to each other."
strategic program manager on the AWS Industries Digital Innovation team, vice-president of the Women at Amazon global board of directors
Why is it important as a women to pay it forward and inspire other women to pursue their career dreams?
SS: As within every field, we rely on our predecessors, our larger groups, our combined resources, and our collective knowledge. It is crucial that women continue to inspire other women and be honest about hardships so we can lend helping hands and support to each other.
I wrote my master’s thesis in 2022 on Workplace Factors in High-Tech that Promote Female Leadership Retentionthat touched exactly on this question. Some highlights from my research showed that female leaders stay in their leadership roles when they have a path to development, feel included, and have a network of support. Investing in female leaders, professional development, true inclusion, mentorship, and flexibility of working will contribute greatly to the retention of female leaders long-term, and offer hope for junior women to follow their paths.
KH:Being a minority in tech hasn’t been easy. I was lucky in that my mom was an early role model for me, and I’ve benefitted so much in my own career from women mentors, coaches, and friends. I’ve gotten job referrals after I was laid off, encouragement to ask for pay rises, and advice for negotiating. I’ve been recommended for high-profile conferences and opportunities in my field. I owe it to all of them to help the next generation after me, to make sure that they have it a little bit easier than I did. Tech companies are among the best in the world to work for—you get to work on interesting problems with clever people, and they pay you to do it! Who wouldn’t want that?
What’s the work environment like for women at Amazon and AWS? Were there any surprises about our work culture when you joined?
SS: The leadership and teammates I found at AWS were kindred spirits and thoughtful conversationalists when it came to the experience of women and other underrepresented groups in our field. I have been incredibly lucky to be in an organization that focuses so heavily on diversity, equity, & inclusion (DEI) efforts every day, and is so willing to have conversations around how we do better for everyone. The transition to feeling anchored with teammates who don’t shy away from hard topics has been very real and one that I am so incredibly grateful to have made.
How do Amazon, AWS, and the Women at Amazon affinity group help employees feel supported and included?
KH: It’s wonderful that Amazon funds the Global DEI team and all of the affinity groups each year. I’ve worked in many orgs where DEI work is something that committed people do on the side, not something that has support and funding at the highest levels. I have also been impressed with the engagement of our executive sponsors within Women at Amazon, who make the time to connect with us and provide feedback and advice.
In terms of hiring, I’m a Bar Raiser—which means I’m a tenured interviewer and have gone through additional training to ensure we continue to Hire and Develop the Best. One thing we do that I love is that our interview feedback system flags when you use gendered pronouns or the candidate’s name. It ensures that you focus on data and remove subjective impressions when you write your feedback.
I was also very happily surprised and proud to see when I recently moved back to Sydney that the office now has all-gender bathrooms available. The amazing folks in Glamazon—Amazon’s LGBTQIA+ affinity group—were the main drivers there, but this is a really nice step forward for gender inclusion at work.
Finally, this might sound trivial, but as a woman in tech, it’s amazing how many tech T-shirts are straight-cut and black or grey. Yet I’ve been able to get Women at Amazon shirts that are curvy cut, comfortable to wear, and in different colors. It’s such a small thing, but it goes a long way in making people feel included.
"I have had the privilege of working alongside some of the most welcoming and supportive folks I’ve encountered in my career. I also feel like working at Amazon has opened incredible doors for me in my career—to explore new roles, move internationally, and establish my credibility as a leader in a male-dominated industry."
AWS head of developer relations for Asia Pacific Japan, Asia Pacific (APAC) regional lead for Women at Amazon
What should current and future women employees at AWS know about working here?
SS: Everyone will tell you that you own your career here at AWS, and it’s true. But where do you start? Women at Amazon and our other amazing affinity groups help give direction, support, and community in what seems like an endless sea of options. I want current and future women to know that your work makes us better, your voice helps lead us, you are part of the backbone of this community, and Women at Amazon is here to support you in any way.
KH: I initially had reservations about coming to work at AWS. For the most part, every one of my concerns was unfounded. I have had the privilege of working alongside some of the most welcoming and supportive folks I’ve encountered in my career. I also feel like working at Amazon has opened incredible doors for me in my career—to explore new roles, move internationally, and establish my credibility as a leader in a male-dominated industry.
Anything else we should know about Women at Amazon?
SS:Women at Amazon is for everyone! As much as we bias for female perspectives, we are a resource for all. It is vital that we have allies, sponsors, and interested parties to help support our community. We are a volunteer organization and always welcome people who are interested in joining us.
KH:I am always delighted to see when men join chapters and pitch in to help with the organizing. We need our male allies—all are welcome to help us build a more diverse and inclusive Amazon.
Learn how the AWS GetIT program helps employees find professional and personal fulfillment as they inspire the next generation of women to pursue their dreams.
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