I wouldn’t describe myself as outspoken. However, in the wake of the recent New York Times article about Amazon’s culture, I felt the need to contribute my voice to the conversation. Not because I seek to challenge other people’s experiences or because I have a remarkable story, but because I don’t. At least in my opinion, my story is representative for a lot of Amazonians.
We Amazonians are a different bunch. We hold ourselves to high standards and, even though we focus on data, we use anecdotes to verify and challenge our decisions. And so I found myself comparing and contrasting the Amazon portrayed in the article to the company where I feel privileged to have built my career.
My work at Amazon has spanned many roles and functions. I started in October 1999 as a product manager in marketing. Back then, Amazon was a little Internet company with big potential facing a lot of skepticism about our prospects. But we were young and optimistic. Rather than listen to the skeptics, we focused deeply on our customers and delivered for them. The result was what we term a "high order" problem — customers appreciated our approach, and we grew quickly as a result.
In turn, I benefited from expanding job opportunities as the company grew. After spending a few years in marketing, and being promoted from product manager to group manager to director, I took a new position in our retail organization, where I launched new categories like Health & Personal Care, Beauty and Grocery, and was promoted to vice president. After that, I spent time building our softlines categories, led the physical media and Canada businesses, and spent two years acting as the CEO of Quidsi Inc., a subsidiary of Amazon. In April, I started my current role as vice president and technical adviser to the CEO.
At Amazon, opportunities to move, grow and take on new challenges are abundant. Our dynamic environment — where there is no shortage of interesting problems to solve or opportunities to build — is what has kept me here for so long. Amazon encourages employees to create their own career paths, and we have great flexibility to move between departments and roles.
While my career was gaining momentum, so, too, was my personal life. During my time at Amazon, I have gotten married, endured the pain of a miscarriage, had two beautiful babies, enjoyed a sabbatical, and moved to New York and then back to Seattle to support my husband’s career and provide comfort to a gravely sick parent.
I started out thinking that I should share the details of my ups and downs and in-betweens as a way to shed light on what it feels like to be a professional woman at Amazon. But in the process of recording the life experiences I have had, I realized my story became pretty repetitive — in a positive way.
In each life phase, I received support and understanding from co-workers and managers who gave me the flexibility I needed to balance the professional and the personal. It started in 2000, when my manager, now an executive on Jeff’s team, personally reached out to connect with my fiancé to ensure that we felt welcomed in Seattle. This human caring continued when my next manager showed great compassion following a miscarriage. Not only was the team supportive, but my manager enthusiastically endorsed my decision to take time off in the midst of a critical planning period so I could spend some time with my husband.
The support continued through the births of both of my children. On each occasion, I took a four-month maternity leave without it impacting my career path. In fact, when I was eight months pregnant with my first child, I was promoted to vice president — a major accomplishment within the ranks of Amazon. I recall initially wondering whether my pregnancy would factor into my promotion timing. I was happy that my concern was unfounded.
I again saw my manager’s commitment to me as a person when I was given the opportunity to take a six-week sabbatical to recharge with my family. Not once during the process was there discussion or suggestion that taking a sabbatical would harm my career. I was not the first (nor will I be the last) long-term employee to be afforded this type of flexibility in order to maintain work/life harmony.
Amazon made its biggest commitment to my need for flexibility just two years ago, when the company found a way for me to follow my husband’s career and support an ill parent by offering me the opportunity to lead one of our subsidiaries in New Jersey. Once again, my career didn’t suffer because I needed flexibility: While I was in that role, my current job was personally offered to me by our CEO.
Everyone’s approach to work and life outside of work is different. I strive for work/life harmony — because I happen to really love both my work and my life. My adult life has been a journey in discovering what it is that I really love to do. Through trial and error over the years, I have learned what activities are meaningful enough to make me jump out of bed and smile on my way to the office, or will make the difference for my family.
I have chosen to work in technology, and more specifically at Amazon, because Amazon strives to empower customers — women in particular. Many professional women are able to perform at a high level in our careers and feel good about ourselves as daughters, friends, moms, partners, etc., with the help of technology.
One instance really drove this point home for me. Mid-flight on a cross-country business trip, I received the kind of email that most parents with grade-school-age kids will find familiar: A note from my daughter’s teacher saying that another child in her class had lice. The email filled me with dread. I immediately had visions of standing in front of a washing machine with every piece of bedding in my home, then combing nits out of my daughter’s hair for days. While sitting in a metal tube tens of thousands of feet in the air, I was able to jump on Amazon and order lice-prevention shampoo — to be delivered to my house the same day. I felt good knowing that my experience was the kind of thing that happens to customers thousands of time a day.
Amazon may not be the right choice for everyone, and with 180,000+ employees, we don’t always get it right. But my experience tells the story of a company that has allowed me to learn and grow, shown me great care and compassion as a person, and still invigorates and inspires me as both an employee and a customer even after all these years.
Mariz Renz is a vice president at Amazon, and currently serves as technical adviser to CEO Jeff Bezos. Renz was previously CEO of Quidsi, an Amazon.com subsidiary with 10 unique shopping sites, including Diapers.com, Soap.com and Wag.com. Before joining Quidsi, she served in various leadership positions at Amazon, including vice president of Physical Media & Canada; she also led Amazon’s consumables group and launched popular customer categories such as Beauty, Health & Personal Care and Grocery. Prior to joining Amazon, Renz worked at Kraft Foods Inc., Hallmark Cards Inc. and Nelson & Associates.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.