Elizabeth Nieto: Cultivating Impactful Diversity and Inclusion at Amazon
By Gloria Romano-Barrera
In 2019, Amazon appointed Elizabeth Nieto as the head of Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. With courage, tenacity, and perseverance, Nieto has led by example when it comes to diversity. Her leadership role at the world’s largest online marketplace, especially during the pandemic, has helped shape how Amazon is engaging for impact, innovation, and shaping its future.
Turning every obstacle into a success story, Nieto has climbed proverbial career mountains. At a time when uncertainties transformed the way we live and work, Nieto stayed atop of her challenges: making decisions based on impact, for both customers and employees, setting priorities and goals, cultivating relationships, and communicating her message of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Responsible for implementing Amazon’s comprehensive DEI strategy focused on attracting and developing a diverse workforce, she believes working in the diversity and inclusion field is aligned to her personal purpose. Although not new to Amazon, the focus on diversity and inclusion has become especially important at a time where the conversation of oppression, racial inequality, and disparities are constant.
Making decisions based on the impact on Amazon’s stakeholders, customers, and employees, are at the core of her strategy. Under her leadership, the company continues to improving hiring, developing, promoting, and retaining the best builders of all backgrounds. Educating, engaging, and influencing leaders and managers, while partnering with talent management, recruiting, and the full human resources community are part of her strategy.
“A lot of the work of DEI is understanding who your customer is and centering the work on them,” she shares. “We need to think of candidates and employees as our customers and understand their experience when they interact with our organizations. The DEI teams create processes so that recruiting teams and hiring managers get exposed to a broad set of talent…that, to me, is one of the ways that we influence our organizations and we have an impact on the workforce.” She adds, “For me to be successful is to fulfill my purpose. I think about the positive impact not just for our employees, but for their families and communities as well. Success is seeing that there are more opportunities for children like mine to be able to have access to education, access to health, or access to careers that previous generations didn’t have.”
At a time when diversity is ever more critical and the Latino population is growing at a fast rate, Nieto is no stranger to different experiences and transitions. Born and raised in Argentina, with a background in educational sciences, she learned and embraced diversity and inclusion earlier in her career.
“I raised my hand to lead diversity and inclusion for one area at the bank where I was working and I then found the purpose of my career,” she shares. “Understanding how people learn, their behaviors and choices, as well as how organizations manage their talent are building blocks to create organizational cultures of inclusion. To build equity, not only do we think about the individuals, but the systems that support someone in the organizations or the systems that hinder them to be successful. In today’s world, we understand how systems have an impact on the livelihood and the career opportunities of different groups, we do the same from a company perspective.”
Prior to joining Amazon, Nieto was the Global Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at MetLife since 2012 and the Global Talent Management Leader since 2017. Under her leadership, the company defined and implemented their first global D&I strategy supported by MetLife CEO. The strategy focused on the development of women globally and regional initiatives (e.g. emerging talent, LGBTQ+, people with different abilities, veterans) and accountability metrics to achieve the company’s world-class status aspiration. As the Global Talent Management Leader, she was responsible for the senior talent review and succession management process, the MBA global leadership development program and executive coaching.
Before joining MetLife, she was the Global Head of Talent, Learning and Diversity for Marsh, Inc. responsible for talent management, all learning initiatives, including leadership, management and business core processes. Before joining Marsh, she spent almost 20 years with Citigroup; for more than 10 years in global talent management, diversity & inclusion roles and as an HR business partner. Previously, she managed global and regional learning organizations working extensively in North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia.
“I was working at Citigroup in Buenos Aires and I had the opportunity to come to the U.S. for a one-year project,” she shares. “I continued to have great opportunities to move laterally, changing roles every 18 months to two years and I never went back.”
Years later, the Amazon executive is excited to talk about the work of the future. “We have learned to work in different conditions and being more flexible, adjusting to this new environment,” she shares. “For some of the corporate roles, that may mean working from home, for our Operations colleagues that means following new safety procedures. To be successful we all had to build flexibility and resilience and a little patience!”
Working remotely since the COVID-19 shutdown, Nieto has found new ways to connect and be able to accomplish her goals in different ways. “At Amazon, we continue to hire to meet the needs of our customers,” she shares. “We are always thinking of how to be better for our customer and we always say ‘what else can we do’ and how can we do better every time.”
Outside of her virtual “office,” Nieto has used her talent to help people through her work in non-profit organizations that support education, access to developmental opportunities for young underserved talent and teenagers at risk. She serves on the boards of The Opportunity Network, A Fair Shake for Youth and the All Stars Project.
Nieto does not like to talk about herself, she was taught from a young age to be humble, but she also understands the value of role modeling for the next generation of leaders. “I used to think that my work shows who I am, I didn’t want to talk about me or my accomplishments, I struggled to share my story for a long long time,” she shares. “Then I realize that I have an obligation as a senior Latina to show that there is a path for people like me. I now encourage myself, to continue to publicly engage with the next generation of talent so they can see themselves growing into leadership through different organizations, corporations, non-for-profits, and in other important areas such as health and education.”