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Ex-Amazon Employee Says She Was Treated Miserably After Having a Baby and Cancer

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To say that Julia Cheiffetz saw herself in the New York Times expose about Amazon's brutal workplace culture would be an understatement. The NYT piece made waves with its anecdotes from Amazon employees detailing how terribly the company treated them when they had children, got diagnosed with cancer, or basically encountered any major life event that prevented them from working constantly. Cheiffetz, who worked in book publishing for Amazon from 2011 to 2014 and now is an executive editor at HarperCollins, has written an essay on Medium about her personal experience at the company when she found out six weeks after her daughter was born that she was diagnosed with cancer.

While recovering from surgery during her maternity leave from Amazon, she received a form letter from her insurance company informing her that Amazon had terminated her health insurance. "I chalked it up to a horrendous administrative error but remain disappointed that a company of Amazon’s size didn’t have better mechanisms in place to prevent something like that from happening during an employee’s maternity leave," she writes.

But it gets much worse. Cheiffetz writes:

After a five-month leave, I was nervous and excited to return to work, and I showed up that first day back with a big smile and a phone full of baby pictures to share. I figured I’d catch up with folks and get a high-level update on how the business was doing, since the strategy had evolved from the time I was hired. Here’s what happened instead: I was taken to lunch by a woman I barely knew. Over Cobb salad she calmly explained that all but one of my direct reports — the people I had hired — were now reporting to her. In the months that followed, I was placed on a dubious performance improvement plan, or PIP, a signal at Amazon that your employment is at risk. Not long after that I resigned.

There’s no question Amazon is an incredible company. I met some of the strongest, most brilliant women of my career there. Unfortunately, many of those women have left. And the voices commenting on the New York Times piece so far have been predominantly male leaders of male-dominated teams.

Cheiffetz's closing paragraph seems to address NYT public editor Margaret Sullivan's criticism that the original report was too anecdotal. Cheiffetz also issues a call for Amazon to become "a more hospitable place for women and parents," on behalf of "all the people who want to speak up but can't." She writes:

You can’t claim to be a data-driven company and not release more specific numbers on how many women and people of color apply, get hired and promoted, and stay on as employees. In the absence of meaningful public data — especially retention data — all we have are stories. This is mine.