Amazon Diversity Programs Director Latasha Gillespie and five other women share their thoughts on what inspired them to build lives and careers that exemplify this year's International Women's Day theme: #BeBoldForChange. Watch Gillespie in the video above and read on to meet an AWS technologist, an entrepreneur who sells on Amazon, a Kindle Direct Publishing author, an operations director in Amazon's fulfillment network, and a member of the Fire TV team.
Laura Grit
Senior Principal Technologist, Amazon Web Services
When I joined Amazon, the women in my org decided to meet up regularly for lunch so we could get to know each other and support each other. As the company grew and we spread across Seattle and around the world, women started asking for tips on how to form their own local groups. Since I was on the Amazon Women in Engineering leadership team, I formalized our process and made it easy for technical women to start an AWE chapter in their communities. We now have over 35 chapters around the world. I can't wait to see where we go in the future.
Early in my career, my VP went to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference for the first time and came back very excited to engage. He asked me questions, and I shared what I'd experienced as a woman in tech during college and grad school. I learned that I have a useful perspective to offer, and I've continued to share my story and my ideas. Over time I've seen my managers and peers incorporate more diverse perspectives into their work as well as refine the ways they support women in tech in their organizations.
Madeline Haydon
Founder and CEO of nutpods
My parents came to this country as refugees from Vietnam. They raised us to know that we're not entitled to anything. It's shaped me so much to know that nothing is owed to me, but that I can take action and work toward my goals and assert myself.
For me, what fuels my optimism is being able to see so many women be bold, not accept the status quo, and not settle for what they've been given, but listen to that quiet voice inside that says, "Change is possible. I'm worth it, and I'm working toward it."
At our company, one way we try to be a force for change is that we actively recruit women who have taken a couple of years off to raise their kids and are looking to get back in the workforce. It's near and dear to my heart to be able to seek out overlooked women who have an amazing skillset that they haven't been able to utilize.
Rajdeep Paulus
Author of independently published novels about a teen freeing her family from abuse
Our mom always supported and protected us the best way she knew. But like her own mother and grandmother before her, she was raised in a culture that taught girls to believe the lie that if they got raped, it would be their own fault and nobody would ever want to marry them. I grew up believing this. And when I finally learned that that's the furthest thing from the truth, I promised myself I'd teach the opposite to my daughters. I've taught them to love their bodies, to respect their bodies, and to know that anything – from the simplest unsolicited touch, to the awful occurrence of any kind of sexual assault – would be 100 percent not their fault and that they can talk to us and that we would help them.
If I ever have granddaughters, I would love for them to grow up in a world where they are free to be as bold as they want because they can legitimately feel safe. Even nowadays, my husband and I tell our daughters to always go places with a friend or with a sister. I want to live to see the end of this constant fear and looking over their shoulders because they are female and can be taken advantage of or hurt.
To help make that happen, it's important to me as a writer to not only share truths about the negativity that presently exists but to create worlds where the change I want to see happen in reality happens in my fiction. That offers a reader a chance to say, "Wow! Things could be different. Our world could look like this."
Joanne Rzeppa
Regional Operations Director, Amazon Fulfillment
Throughout my career, I've become bolder by gaining confidence – but not how you might think. I've had to figure out how to be bold through allowing myself to fail. As a straight-A student who always did well in sports and work, learning to fail was extremely uncomfortable. But in a place with the growth and complexity of Amazon, you have to pursue excellence and then learn from each time you don't quite get there. Leading at scale across six fulfillment centers with thousands and thousands of full-time employees of all levels is very challenging. My team has to trust me, and I have to make them feel safe enough to fail. Lack of trust leads to less risk-taking, which can be far too limiting. Continuing to deliver for our customers requires constant innovation and a willingness to step out of the comfort zone of how things are today.
I'd encourage women to be bold in whatever way fits them. During the course of my career, I've tried to piece together individual strengths of leaders or peers I admire to create a mosaic of who I am as a leader. For some, leadership may mean very vocal, public displays of their opinions, and I believe every woman can also be bold for change in her own way – whether it's speaking up in a meeting, suggesting a workplace-policy change, mentoring a young woman, asking for a raise, or applying for a job that seems just out of reach. The worst that can happen is you might fail, but you won't succeed if you're afraid to try.
Erika Takeuchi
Senior Brand Manager, Fire TV
I remember getting invited to interview for a new job that I thought was out of my league. I was prepping for it with a peer I really respect. At the end of our conversation, she said, "Remember that you're a rock star, and they'd be lucky to have you." Her words really caught me off guard.
I had been so focused on my weaknesses that I was diminishing my own value. It was an important reminder that surrounding yourself with people who believe in you can be a very powerful thing.
When I started Amazon Local Love to help nonprofits, I didn't know it would ultimately grow with the support of so many passionate employees, leaders, partners, business owners and service providers. At first, there was a lot of cold calling and sending emails out into the unknown, but I had this stubborn conviction that all the stars could align.
I encourage women to help each other and lean on each other for help. We've often shared some of the same struggles, and we've certainly all had those moments where we've gotten stuck and need some advice. Great things happen when we pay it forward. We need more amazing, smart women to lead the way.
On International Women's Day, Amazon employee groups plan to host a full day of events to mark the global celebration of women's achievements