At a town hall in 2017, after Michael Brown, Philando Castile and Sandra Bland had already become household names, an employee asked Mr. Bezos about the lack of diversity on his team. Mr. Bezos said his top deputies had been by his side for years, and he saw the low turnover as an asset. Any transition on the team, he said, would “happen very incrementally over a long period of time.”
In April, before George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis, a group of midlevel employees wrote to Mr. Bezos and his senior team, saying there was “a systemic pattern of racial bias that permeates Amazon,” according to emails viewed by The New York Times. They said they were prompted to write after a leak of meeting notes showed that David Zapolsky, Amazon’s general counsel, had called a black warehouse employee in Staten Island “not smart or articulate.”
Mr. Zapolsky had said his comments were “personal and emotional” and that he did not know the employee was black. But in their email, the corporate employees said it “was not an isolated incident, but rather a symptom of a bigger problem.”
They said Amazon adopted the entrenched racism that plagued America, evidenced by the “homogeneity” of the its leadership compared with “the rich racial and ethic diversity amongst our hourly worker population.”
The group proposed almost a dozen specific changes, including conducting a third-party audit of bias, releasing detailed figures on race and promotions, establishing goals for representation in management and leadership roles, and having the head of diversity be a member of Mr. Bezos’s S-Team.
Amazon said that senior leaders offered resources to help the group develop their suggestions into a formal proposal.
On Tuesday, Microsoft, one of Amazon’s top competitors for tech talent, said it would spend $150 million on diversity efforts and planned to double the number of black managers and senior employees by 2025.