Amazon Global Diversity leader, Latasha Gillespie discusses the goal of diversity and inclusion for women of color.
Latasha Gillespie, the Global Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at Amazon Studios and a Black woman in tech, knows who she is. She wears many hats - that of a leader, an advocate, a mother, a wife, and a friend. She’s a firm believer that one’s lived experiences, no matter the scale, shape a person’s unique view of the world. And the culmination of these unique views is what will push organizations, like Amazon, forward.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, organizations of all sizes continue to push an agenda around building equity, diversity, and inclusion. But Gillespie warns leaders not to prioritize one effort over another. “If you have an organization that lacks diversity, you’ll create a revolving door effect. If it lacks inclusion, you’ll have an organization subject to groupthink, which means you’ll have blind spots. And if your organization lacks equity, you’ll never really level the playing field and provide a safe space for people to bring their authentic selves and grow.” These newly adopted diversity and inclusion policies can be most harmful to women in tech, especially women of color, if not thoughtfully planned and implemented.
“Because DEI is everyone’s responsibility, especially those more privileged than others. ”
That's why making room for diverse perspectives is so important at all stages of the conversation. Fostering an environment of authenticity and inclusion is how organizations can encourage these diverse perspectives. “When you’re able to bring your whole self to work - all your lived experiences, your cultural background, gender identity, those things that uniquely shape who you are, you bring a perspective to the table no one else can.” The conference she started in 2018 called CORE, or the Conversations on Race and Ethnicity, did just that. It created a safe space for employees at Amazon to have honest dialogue while relating it back to the leadership principles.
Utilizing people that have been confirmed as allies by underrepresented communities is imperative to getting support from high-level executives and even the C-Suite. Why? Because diversity and inclusion is everyone’s responsibility, especially those more privileged than others. “You have to use your time, your money, and your power to inform the work you’re doing to combat racism, transphobia, homophobia, and xenophobia,” Gillespie said as a way to inform decisions on DEI policy. Even in her day-to-day work for Amazon Studios, she is using DEI assessments to keep everyone accountable for the way titles impact representation on camera and behind the scenes. She’s not stopping at assessments. Gillespie also creates action items to mitigate the risks that could harmfully impact the audience. For example, content that encourages or displays a hyperbolic stereotype perpetuated in a script or scene.
In her tenure in the diversity and inclusion space at Amazon, Gillespie has seen the way some of her Black female colleagues make decisions. “We tend to be more risk-averse.” Gillespie attributed that to Black women’s understanding of the sacrifices that other Black women made to break barriers. But because of the fear that they’ll make a mistake and close the ‘door’ behind them, Black women tend to make safe decisions. These career decisions are meticulously planned, they are linear, and they don’t leave them standing over the edge. Their decisions tend to fit into what Amazon considers a two-way door or an easily reversible decision. “You’ve got to name the boogeyman,” Gillespie advises anyone who may be risk-averse.
“We don’t leave our comfort zones over a fear [that] we won’t give name to,” Gillespie said. She’s been strengthening the practice of naming this boogeyman for years. This is likely what spurred her to leave the comfort of her finance job in 2000 to take a role in Human Resources. Changing her job role was the first step of many as she leaned into ‘yes’ and stripped power from the boogeyman.
Gillespie has also embraced a different industry within television and film. She went from a Black woman in tech to a Black woman in film. “I made the hard decision to leave a company I’d been with for 20 years. I was on a first name basis with the CEO, had great sponsorship and even better relationships.” But her current role with Amazon is the most rewarding in her career so far.
For Gillespie, leading DEI exemplifies the Amazon leadership principle of being “customer-obsessed”. She joked that she knew she wasn’t curing cancer and that Hollywood filmmaking wasn’t high on the ladder for necessity, but she still has a great sense of pride in the work she is doing. To illustrate her priorities, she poses the questions, “Are we telling stories that are representative of different communities around the world? And are we telling those stories in a very nuanced and authentic way?” She gushed about the successes of ‘Sylvie’s Love’, ‘One Night in Miami’, and the upcoming buzz for Michael B. Jordan’s film, ‘Without Remorse’. She believes that the stories her team tells and how they’re told have a chance to change the perception of people in other industries.
Black people aren’t a monolith. LGBTQIA people aren’t a monolith. People that identify as Muslim aren’t a monolith. It’s important that the titles they release show that.
When asked what projects she and her team had on the horizon, Gillespie bubbled with excitement and said, “Just know that we’re so excited about the work we’re doing and the creative partners that are coming on board with us.” She said they were about to do some really transformational work in the television and film industry and was hopeful that the rest of the industry would choose to follow suit.
Although Gillespie isn’t in an HR role anymore, she’s widely considered to be a subject matter expert on diversity and inclusion initiatives. “I’m really proud of that. That evidently people felt I made a big enough difference in a role that people still see me as their person.”