Hispanic employees share their experiences working at AWS and being champions for change
Written by the Life at AWS team
As a second-generation Latino born in the United States, Joel Martinez recalls feeling like his extended Mexican family looked at him differently for not speaking Spanish, and his extended non-Mexican family looked at him differently due to his skin color.
“When I got to college, I began to truly appreciate the richness of all of who I was and it set me on a path of cultural renewal and pride,” said Martinez, an HR director at Amazon Web Services (AWS). “I seek to help others find this today no matter their age or background.”
As Amazon and AWS celebrate cultura during Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond—Amazon is emphasizing the tú in cultúra this year as a nod to the collective individuals who make up Hispanic tastes, traditions, and contributions—Martinez reflects on what inclusion means to so many Hispanic groups and how feeling like an outsider has given him a unique perspective in his career. This perspective has opened doors for him both as a leader and within his community, where he has served on numerous boards and held governmental advisory roles.
Throughout his career, Martinez had many great mentors and role models that inspire him to be the same for others.
“I feel like I’m in a position where I can actually give back. And in a community like AWS that’s super excited and welcoming and wants my time and help, it gives me a great sense of satisfaction that I’m doing something to make the world a little bit better,” Martinez said.
Across Amazon, we’re working to create inclusive experiences everywhere,
and drive diverse representation across all levels. In 2022, we aim to increase both Black and Hispanic executive leaders in the U.S. by at least 35%. Across level 4-7 corporate roles, we aim to increase Black and Hispanic talent in the U.S by at least 30%.
The Latinos at Amazon employee affinity group also plays a key role in creating a more inclusive and equitable experience for the Hispanic community across Amazon and AWS. It leads programs to ensure we train interviewers who continue to raise our high talent bar, develop Hispanic employees into leadership roles, mentor other Hispanic employees in fulfillment centers and corporate roles, and increase the company’s presence across Hispanic Serving Institutions.
“Within AWS, we are very focused on creating opportunities that allow us to shine a spotlight on this talent, whether that’s partnering on an external community engagement or an internal professional development opportunity,” said Andrea Seitz, AWS Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity leader.
“For example, we have a partnership with the Hispanic IT Executive Council (HITEC), which seeks to connect, inspire, and grow influential Hispanic technology executives while developing the next generation of leaders,” she said. “When it comes to increasing underrepresented minorities in technical roles, we also focus heavily on establishing internal and external talent pipelines through sponsorship, academia, and professional organizations, which includes our work with Hispanic Serving Institutions.”
“There’s a legitimate, genuine interest in saying, ‘let’s look at how we view the world. If I view it differently than you view it, well maybe my view of the world needs to change and we need to think about doing things differently. That is very unique to Amazon and AWS."
Joel Martinez human resources director at AWS
Leading with purpose
At AWS, Martinez feels empowered to share ideas that can make a difference. He has been working on a reverse mentorship program where he guides other senior leaders to seek out junior colleagues from different backgrounds to learn how to be more connected and inclusive.
“This idea that more senior people have the more senior knowledge is just flat out wrong. They’ve got different knowledge, but it’s not necessarily better,” Martinez said. “You can be a better leader by reaching out to people who have insights and knowledge you don’t have. Reverse mentorship allows you to ask people from other communities how you can be a more respectful leader.”
Martinez and Diego Pantoja-Navajas, vice president of new products for AWS Business Applications, recently co-hosted a virtual roundtable on behalf of AWS that brought together Hispanic leaders from various companies to discuss Hispanic representation in tech. Pantoja-Navajas is AWS’s executive sponsor of these Hispanic Leaders in Tech events, which focus on what tech companies can do to improve representation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, especially in leadership positions.
This emerging network of senior business leaders has planned future roundtables to collectively figure out how to grow Hispanic talent pipelines and improve career development opportunities. Martinez credits AWS and Amazon for creating an environment where people across all levels of the company can put their minds together to make top-down and grassroots improvements.
“One of the cool things about AWS is that we’re just super practical. Some companies will wave their hands and make declarations and proclamations, but we actually take action on the things we think will make a difference,” Martinez said.
Internally, there are programs that help Hispanic employees across all stages of their careers, including programs that encourage them to enter an elite interviewing program, develop as leaders, increase Amazon and AWS’s presence in Hispanic-serving institutions, and lead mentoring circles for other Hispanic employees in fulfillment centers and corporate roles.
Pantoja-Navajas—who was born in Bolivia and has lived in Venezuela, Chile, Peru, Columbia, and the U.S.—also collaborates with many Hispanic entrepreneurs in and outside of the U.S. who want to build and/or expand their companies. He credits his rise to corporate leadership to his experience building technology start-ups from the ground up and eventually selling one to a major tech company.
“That’s how I became an ‘executive.’ My arrival feels natural to me, but let me be clear—I created my role first as an entrepreneur, and the business world accepted it and eventually invited me to join bigger organizations,” Pantoja-Navajas said. “As a segment of the population,
Latinos are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the country.”
“The way our interviewing process is designed, it’s really inclusive and it allows us to focus objectively on the actions the candidate has taken and their impacts, as opposed to allowing blind spots or unconscious biases to come in."
Amanda Nazario account manager for AWS start-up customers
Embracing diverse perspectives
Before Amanda Nazario joined AWS as an account manager for AWS start-up business customers, she reached out to an acquaintance who worked at AWS to gain a better understanding of the work culture. Nazario’s family is from Puerto Rico and she was born and raised in New York in a multigenerational household in a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood. She also has Black heritage and identifies as Afro-Latina.
“I think anytime you’re making a transition from one company or one opportunity to another, there’s a risk calculation,” she said. “I wanted to know, ‘is this a place where I can thrive? Am I going to feel comfortable here?’”
As a previous participant of the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE) and a member of the Sigma Lambda Upsilon/Senoritas Latinas Unidas Sorority, she’s sought to mentor other Latinas and foster leadership and service to the community. When she started working at AWS, she found her way to the Latinos at Amazon employee affinity group, where she connects with other Hispanic employees around the world and participates in programming for occasions such as Hispanic Heritage Month. She also trained to become an AWS interviewer, which is something she’s passionate about because of its impact on creating an inclusive candidate experience.
“The way our interviewing process is designed, it’s really inclusive and it allows us to focus objectively on the actions the candidate has taken and their impacts, as opposed to allowing blind spots or unconscious biases to come in,” she said. “AWS is always encouraging people like myself to become interviewers so there’s not only greater representation in the process, but also more perspectives.”
"Nothing is perfect, but I’ve been at AWS for over five years and I wouldn’t have stayed this long if I didn’t believe in the work we are doing to make representation better every day.”
Natalia Valle senior business development manager for AWS Marketplace
A culture steeped in curiosity to drive diversity
As Hispanic and other diverse representation continues to grow across AWS and Amazon, Martinez points to the deliberate intentions to help all people feel included. But, rather than just assume what makes people feel included, AWS listens and asks.
“We try to define what’s important to each person, what inclusion means for each person, and how we can be open to that,” he said. “There are some days when my Hispanicness is super important to me. There are other days when being a parent is the most important thing, and days when being a dog owner dominates my life. The fact we allow for that space and allow for this framing to really learn when and how people feel included—it’s empowering.”
This inclusion process begins before a candidate even becomes an employee. Martinez is a big proponent of Candid Chats, a program that invites job candidates who are in the on-site interview stage to set up a 30-minute conversation with Amazonians who are not involved in their interviews or hiring decisions. The conversation is a safe space where candidates can ask questions relating to their personal needs, free from judgment, so they can try to envision working at AWS.
“You’re looking for as many connection points as possible. Maybe a candidate wants to talk to someone who’s in a similar job function, or maybe they want to talk to someone with a similar gender identity, or someone who has children, or a Latino, etc.” Martinez said. “Then you have a half-hour and you want to make sure the candidates get a chance to ask their questions, especially the ones they felt they couldn’t necessarily ask their interviewers.”
Natalia Valle, a senior business development manager for AWS Marketplace, found Candid Chats through AWS’s Inclusion Board. Valle, whose mother is from Cuba and father is from Italy, volunteers as a member of the Latinos at Amazon and Women at Amazon affinity groups so she often gets paired with Hispanic or women candidates.
“It allows new Amazon candidates to chat candidly with an employee that represents their culture,” Valle said. “Amazon gives us a ton of opportunities to get involved, but you have to take the initiative to find them and participate.”
Valle said the being Latina in a historically underrepresented industry isn’t always simple, but its critical. As she has broadened her scope in roles, moving from a non-tech role to a tech role, she continues to find ways to represent her community through volunteering inside and outside of Amazon to help other Latina girls and women follow their dreams.
“Latina women often don’t apply to as many roles they are qualified for, often due to confidence, imposter syndrome, or fearing how they fit into the culture,” Valle said. “It’s important to highlight the Latina women who are doing these jobs now. Nothing is perfect, but I’ve been at AWS for over five years and I wouldn’t have stayed this long if I didn’t believe in the work we are doing to make representation better every day.”
From Martinez’s view, that work stems from the company’s endless curiosity and customer obsession. At the senior most levels, there’s a desire to learn and continuously improve.
“There’s a legitimate, genuine interest in saying, ‘let’s look at how we view the world. If I view it differently than you view it, well maybe my view of the world needs to change and we need to think about doing things differently,’” Martinez said. “That is very unique to Amazon and AWS.”