Former Employee Who Survived Cancer as a New Mom Calls Out Amazon’s CEO

In a new essay, former Amazon employee Julia Cheiffetz offers CEO Jeff Bezos feedback on how Amazon treated her when she gave birth to a baby and was diagnosed with cancer six weeks after.

In her story posted on Medium, Cheiffetz recalls weeping in her chair after reading the New York Times exposé, “Inside Amazon,” during a day at the beach with her husband and 2-year-old daughter.

Cheiffetz worked at Amazon from 2011-July 2014 as an editorial director who helped launch the company’s New York City-based book publishing outpost. During her first few months at Amazon, she says she was in awe of the talented people she was surrounded by everyday. However, she noticed that only one woman held a leadership position in the company. That woman, General Counsel Michelle Wilson, who served on Jeff Bezos’ executive team, took maternity leave in 2012 and never came back.

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During her second year at Amazon, Cheiffetz took maternity leave and found out six weeks later that she had cancer. After her surgery while on maternity leave, she was notified by a letter that she no longer had health insurance with Amazon. Panicked and worried she wouldn’t have coverage for the cost of medical care, she had a week of “back and forth” correspondence with the company before the issue was finally resolved. They offered her new coverage, but by then she had switched to her husband’s insurance for the remainder of her care. She explains:

I chalked it up to a horrendous administrative error but remain disappointed that a company of Amazon’s size didn’t have better mechanisms in place to prevent something like that from happening during an employee’s maternity leave.”

Cheiffetz recollects the series of events that occurred when she came back to Amazon after her time off:

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“After a five-month leave, I was nervous and excited to return to work, and I showed up that first day back with a big smile and a phone full of baby pictures to share. I figured I’d catch up with folks and get a high-level update on how the business was doing, since the strategy had evolved from the time I was hired. Here’s what happened instead: I was taken to lunch by a woman I barely knew. Over Cobb salad she calmly explained that all but one of my direct reports — the people I had hired — were now reporting to her. In the months that followed, I was placed on a dubious performance improvement plan, or PIP, a signal at Amazon that your employment is at risk. Not long after that I resigned.”

No longer at Amazon, Cheiffetz now works for HarperCollins publishing. She says she is happy, healthy and loves what she does. She acknowledges that Amazon is an amazing company that introduced her to some of the most “brilliant women” of her career. However, those women no longer work there.

In responding to Jeff Bezos’s request for direct feedback, she says:

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“Women power your retail engine. They buy diapers. They buy books. They buy socks for their husbands on Prime. On behalf of all the people who want to speak up but can’t: Please, make Amazon a more hospitable place for women and parents. Reevaluate your parental leave policies. You can’t claim to be a data-driven company and not release more specific numbers on how many women and people of color apply, get hired and promoted, and stay on as employees. In the absence of meaningful public data — especially retention data — all we have are stories. This is mine.”

Stories from former Amazon employees have been brought to light following Jeff Bezos’s response to accusations made by the New York Times article criticizing Amazon’s workplace environment.

An Amazon spokesperson told GeekWire last week that new mothers are offered eight weeks’ paid time and an additional 12 weeks unpaid if needed. On the other hand, new fathers are not offered any time paid off for paternity leave.

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