HeForShe: Simon Johnson | Director, Media at Amazon

Simon Johnson, Director, Media, Amazon share his story about why he is in support of the HeForShe campaign.

Simon HeForShe

Why do you support the HeForShe campaign? For example – do you have a daughter or have you witnessed the benefits that diversity can bring to a workplace?

Gender equality is something I feel passionate about. In my previous company, I worked for a female CEO and the majority of employees were female so I directly experienced the benefits of working in mixed teams with mixed ideas.

My role model is also a female. Having come from the publishing industry, Baroness Gail Rebuck DBE, is an inspiration to me. She set up her own publishing company and sold it, became chief executive of Random House and then Chair of Penguin Random House, sits in the House of Lords and is a non-executive director of other businesses and chairs various arts bodies and charities.

Outside of work, I’m chair of The Bush Theatre which is a leader in the creative case for diversity in the UK – it was the first theatre in London to have a non-white artistic director, for example. So I’ve had multiple touch points showing how beneficial and important equality and diversity is.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

The balance of men and women in the workplace is something we should all support where and when we can. Amazon has hundreds of millions of customers and the better we reflect our customers, the better we can support and serve them. We’re committed to building a diverse workforce that reflects our customer base because we’re a company of builders who bring varying backgrounds, ideas, and points of view to inventing on behalf of our customers.

‘Focusing on diversity also allows us to attract the best talent and to make Amazon a great place to work.  But ultimately we do it because it’s the right thing to do.’

How welcome are men in the gender equality conversation currently?

In my experience very welcome. For example, when I joined Amazon I was keen to get involved with [email protected], which is an employee-run affiliate group dedicated to the development of women within Amazon. People might be surprised that a women’s group should have men in their leadership group, but [email protected] is a strong network of women and men, which hosts networking events, drives policy discussion and sponsors the Amazon Circles Program of peer-to-peer mentoring.

Do you think groups/networks that include the words “women in…” or “females in…” make men feel like gender equality isn’t really their problem or something they need to help with?

No. I’m a huge fan of simplicity and accuracy in how you describe something. Groups like these exist because there is work to be done and we shouldn’t shy away from that. For instance, closer to home, [email protected] is a strong network of women and men. Amazon’s diversity is consistent with our values, which include seeking diverse perspectives so men do not have the choice of saying that gender equality isn’t really their problem whatever we may call our networks or groups.

What can businesses do to encourage more men to feel welcome enough to get involved in the gender debate?

Integrate the importance of diversity into the values of the organisation, which ultimately comes from the top of the organisation. I think we should all care about being informed on the topic of gender diversity.  Speaking out about diversity within our teams and the benefit it brings, and also promoting the good work that happens in and because of this area makes a real difference.

‘At Amazon we work really hard with our recruitment team to field a pool of diverse candidates at our interviews, we educate our leaders on unconscious bias and attend external events to raise the profile of Amazon as an employer that cares about diversity.’

We also work to spotlight female leaders and talent in the business to help inspire others. All these things ensure there isn’t really an excuse for any Amazon employee not to engage with gender diversity.

Do you currently mentor any women or have you in the past?

Yes, I currently mentor three women and three men. I also co-chaired a Circles peer to peer mentoring group of 8 women at Amazon, which aims to facilitate connections between employees across the business, helping them foster meaningful relationships, expand their network, promote career development, and support each other through shared experiences.

Have you noticed any difference in mentoring women – for example, are women less likely to put themselves forward for jobs that are out of their comfort zones or are women less likely to identify senior roles that they would be suited for?

Every mentoring conversation is different because people have different challenges, strengths, personal circumstances, backgrounds, objectives, luck and so on. I think reducing it down to a male and female question is limiting. A good mentor listens actively and works with their mentee on the topics relevant to them at a given point in time. That being said statistically there are some topics that certain groups are more likely to raise than others. Therefore, what I believe is critical for a mentor is being informed by data and insight of your teams to better understand how one can best support certain groups of employees.

Rather than reducing this to a male versus female question, I would rather understand the needs of individual employees (including any differences between male and female) to provide them with the appropriate targeted support system, be it through mentorship, policy, education or so on.

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