What’s Really Holding Women Back

3 minute read

My promotion to VP/DE became official on March, 1. Coincidentally, on that day, I also ran across this article, which really resonated with me. I’m going to use this thread to explain why.

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You’ll get a lot more out of this post if you read the article first. Really: go read it. Even if it means you forget about this post and never come back.

What did I see of myself in that article? I saw both sides. Obviously, I’m a man, and I’ve reached the highest level in my industry; there’s literally no higher rung for me to attain. But it’s not quite that simple.

As I wrote here, I am the first Amazonian hired as an SDE2 to be promoted to DE. That’s four promotions, from level 5 to level 10 (there is no level 9 🤷). So when were those promotions?

  • 5➝6: 2000
  • 6➝7: 2003
  • 7➝8: 2015
  • 8➝10: 2020

Three years between the first two, five years between the last two, and twelve years in between. What happened?

Obviously, in 12 years, lots happens, but what resonated with the article were that I did the following:

  • four months paternity leave for each of my kids
  • over a year off to be at home when my wife went back to school
  • a year of working ¾ time
  • four months off when my wife had cancer (she’s fine)

I also coached my kids’ Ultimate teams six seasons and their football teams four.

So it’s not surprising that my career slowed down. I made a conscious decision to prioritize my family. I don’t regret that decision for a moment. I have relationships with my sons that I wouldn’t have had without that focus.

All that, and I was still able to make DE. So it’s a happy story, right? Yes and no. I feel very lucky to work for a company where I could walk this path and make choices aligned with my values. And I think it shows that it is possible to prioritize family and still rise.

But, and it’s a big but, I think I’m unusual. I was a white male whose talents and personality closely matched what Amazon values. And I really value what Amazon offers. So I was strongly committed to making it work, and I was very lucky to be who I am.

I think Amazon is better off for me being here. I just got a pretty strong signal that I’m right. But I easily could have left. Internally, I’m trying to use my influence to help keep the 10-year-younger versions of me engaged so that they can be VPs in 2030.

I don’t know how to impact the internal struggle women feel about trading off work and family. But I do know that anything we can do to make it easier to make difference choices at different points in time will make those choices easier.

If you’re in a position of influence (at Amazon or anywhere), I encourage you to think about the signals you’re sending to people. Are you thinking about the long-run, or just how much you can get out of them this month?

When people take time off for family, do you question their commitment? When they leave early for a child’s event, do you mentally write them off? As I keep telling my team: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Many of the most-impactful people at Amazon have been there for 20+ years. If as a leader you give up on people because they aren’t as committed to work as you are 100% of the time, you are going to lose those people long before they hit 20 years.

PS. If you work at Amazon and are struggling with these issues, please send me an internal email.

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