Black History Month may be over, but the impact of Amazon’s innovative #BlackHistoryMakersseries will be long-lasting for the Black creatives who were given a platform to share their stories. The series was all part of the leading online retailer’s ongoing efforts to highlight and empower Black employees, especially those making an impact at Amazon and within their communities.
Now to celebrate Women’s History Month, Amazon is amplifying women-owned small businesses. It’s also using this month to focus on a new set of voices by sharing insights from Black women making an impact of their own at Amazon.
AfroTech recently spoke with Tiffany Johnson, Dr. Tiffany Bowden, Jillian Blackwell and Karie Harris about their paths into tech, tips for other professionals and more.
Black Women Leading the Way at Amazon
Since moving to the United States at age 14, Tiffany Johnson has been determined to find her way. Despite a rough start that included becoming an emancipated minor, living undocumented for five years and raising two younger siblings, Johnson’s tenacity turned into a passion for business. It led her to successful ventures as the CEO and founder of feminine care and wellness brand Mooziiand the CEO and founder of HerJointLounge, a booming digital platform.
Now a Program Manager at Amazon, Johnson’s background has given her a unique perspective when it comes to helping others. Understanding just how hard it can be for immigrants to find opportunities in a foreign country, she’s focused on building bridges and gently pushing those unsure of where to start in the right direction — efforts that have earned her national media attention as a BeyGood & NAACP Small Business Impact Fund Grant winner.
With a Ph.D. in Communication specializing in Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Tiffany Bowden has become an expert voice as a leading diversity consultant. And she’s used these talents to make her mark as the Global Diversity Program Manager on Amazon’s central Global Diversity Equity and Inclusion team. Within her consultancy outside of Amazon, she currently supports startups as a remote Chief Diversity Officer and leads diversity workshops globally. Dr. Bowden manages AntiRacismForBeginners.com a website for the those beginning their anti-racism work.
She’s also a pioneer of the cannabis industry, having founded the first Black-owned cannabis education company and the first black non-profit organization in the cannabis industry with an emphasis on minority issues, the Minority Cannabis Business Association. She has also supported the National Diversity & Inclusion Cannabis Alliance and This is Jane Project as a board member. Additionally, Dr. Bowden was trained as a Ford Foundation Difficult Dialogues Facilitator and won a TEDx People’s Choice award.
Falling in love with business and entrepreneurship at age 10, Jillian Blackwell has come a long way from her paper route in Detroit, Michigan. With over two decades of professional business development and marketing experience, Blackwell is now working her magic at Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the North America Business Development Manager. She specializes in building and executing initiatives to increase awareness, drive demand and facilitate the adoption of the Well Architect Partner Program in North America and Canada.
Wearing many hats at Amazon, including serving on Amazon’s Global BEN (Black Employee Network) board, Blackwell is also a member of Amazon Women in Engineering and has supported the AfroTech Conference on the company’s behalf as a member of the leadership committee. Her passion for helping youth and other women find their unique voices in business and technology has led Blackwell to establish the organizations: Friends in Technology, Jill Talk, Brilliant in Business and The C.E.O. Women.
A certified career coach with a master’s degree in Business Administration, Karie Harris has built an impressive career that spans over 15 years in information technology experience. After roles at major organizations, Harris now calls AWS her tech home. Multi-skilled in technology and people, Harris’ role has grown as she’s dived into career coaching, full-cycle technical recruiting, personal brand marketing and career accelerator training. These strengths have led her to grow inside of Amazon.
With a strong passion for helping others find their purpose and grow their careers, Harris is also the founder of Diversity Career Coaching Academy, specializing in custom services for Black, Latinx and Native Americans that includes career coaching, personal brand building, salary negotiation and more.
On Joining Amazon and Making a Mark through Achievement
I am a Program Manager at Amazon supporting businesses within Amazon Stores. As a leader within the Amazon Black Employee Network, I am proud of the work I have done while hosting BEN Startup week as well as several initiatives internally. As a startup founder, I am also proud of the work I have done internally to help small businesses. I have spent years helping small businesses grow on Amazon stores, and it brings me joy to see the ripple effect it has on the community.
Dr. Tiffany Bowden
I am a Global Diversity Program Manager. I came into Amazon through Employee Relations within HR as a Program Manager. I love people and loved how customer-focused Amazon is and thought being in a space where employees are my customers would be a great fit. I love that I’m on the diversity team because I’m surrounded by people who are working to raise the bar for inclusion at Amazon.
I’m also the project lead for AfroTech, so I love being able to interact with Black founders and professionals at Amazon. It’s given me an opportunity to get a glimpse at the next-level contributions that the Black community at Amazon is involved in. I will also be supporting our internal Global Diversity Practitioner Summit, where I will be helping to elevate and create an environment of learning for those who are tasked with leading diversity initiatives within the company.
I am the Senior Business Development Manager for the AWS Well-Architected Partner Program for North American and Canadian partners. I was interested in pursuing a career with Amazon personally because I was spending more time flying than I did at my own dinner table, so I needed to find something that was local — or better yet virtual — where I could be more accessible and available to my husband and children.
Professionally, I was looking for my next challenge, and someone reached out to me. After learning about the career opportunities available, I decided to take a leap of faith. The reality is there’s always a chance that what you think will be “great” may not be. There’s always risk involved. In this instance, it worked out well. Amazon is a wonderful place to work where I learn something new every day.
Leveraging Your Voice as Black Women in Tech to Make Equity a Priority
Dr. Tiffany Bowden
It’s hard enough for Black women in this world, let alone having to also navigate a professional career. So I like to offer mentorship and coaching to women who are seeking to advance their careers in tech, and I frequently help people prepare for interviews. I’m a big proponent of “lift as you climb.”
I am grateful to have been at Amazon in the midst of the pandemic. I’m proud that the company has been able to support families of all types — globally — in the time we needed it most. Amazon in many ways made it possible for people to follow stay-at-home orders through its delivery services. I was also proud that our company took a hard stand against racial injustice, and that was reflected throughout several policies internally and externally.
For years I volunteered on various projects with my friends who work for other tech companies. It was very grassroots — just a group of friends getting together. But after the death of George Floyd and everything that took place in 2020, I wanted to do something more impactful, more meaningful. So in 2020, I decided to start an organization called MERG-E (Multicultural Employee Resources Group for Equity). MERG-E convenes employees, entrepreneurs and allies across the United States to utilize the power of our collective voices and platforms to make a positive change in communities, as well as inside our respective organizations.
I’m always intentionally advocating for myself in the workplace and dealing with tough conversations that need to be had. I bring my voice and speak up when I know I have something of value to add to the conversation. I’m not afraid to be bold and bring my whole self to work because Amazon embraces that and allows me to be comfortable in the skin I’m in.
Our CEO has always pushed for DEI, but what happened in 2020 made our efforts a lot more intentional and strategic. There is a mandate to do whatever we can to make sure we are creating an environment not just of diversity but also inclusion. We have been working hard to identify areas where we can improve the internal employee experience as well as the external applicant, and I’m proud to be a part of those processes.
Advice for Black Women With a Passion for Technology
Breaking into the tech world is like traveling to a new country you’ve never been to. There’s so much to learn and do. With that said, I would encourage young Black women to venture out and don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. You’ve got this.
Dr. Tiffany Bowden
Don’t be afraid to take up space. Be authentic. People will adjust. Don’t look for a model to follow when you may be the model. Don’t shrink so that others feel comfortable in your presence. And as you grow, remember to lift as you climb. Help other ladies adjust their crown if they get knocked down. Remain humble, but don’t be afraid to show the receipts of your greatness.
Tech is not just for developers. There are many different entry points. Identify your transferable skills and do some searches to see who is looking for someone with your skills. Then start working backward off those job descriptions to see what you need to add to your resume or get more experience in. Also, network as much as possible. Have coffee chats and informational sessions when you can.
Diverse in their backgrounds, since joining Amazon, the women have found a common bond in their ability to bring their real selves to the table, while elevating their voices behind the scenes to bring other Black women into the fold.
As the world continues to shift and adjust to this new normal, Amazon will continue to amplify these voices, while working to connect communities and businesses alike. Or as Dr. Bowden explains, “I think people remember in general who was there when you needed it most. I think Amazon has become even more important during these times — from our shipping that allows people to stay home, entertainment and devices that allow people to enjoy being there, flexible work opportunities to allow people to support their families, e-commerce solutions to allow businesses to transition to virtual and more. It’s no wonder that we are hiring and are eagerly looking for future Amazonians to come build the future with us.”
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This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Amazon.