Two Amazon employees – Aisha Suleiman and Rashada Harry – have been recognised by EMpower’s Ethnic Minority Role Model Lists 2020.

The annual lists celebrate inspirational people of colour who are not at senior level but are making important contributions to ethnic minority people, both within and outside their workplace.

Nominated by peers and employees, a panel of judges then rates nominees on factors such as the influence of their role, their impact on ethnic minority inclusion inside and outside the workplace, and their business achievements.

Aisha Suleiman – Program Manager for AWS Educate – has been recognised as an EMpower Ethnic Minority Future Leader Role Model for 2020. Rashada Harry – Enterprise Account Manager for AWS – has been recognised as an EMpower Top 100 Ethnic Minority Executive for 2020.

As they celebrated the awards, we spoke to the winners about the importance of recognising leaders from ethnic minority backgrounds – and how they are working to bring about positive change.

Aisha Suleiman – Program Manager, AWS Educate

Headshot of Aisha Suleiman next to the EMpower and Yahoo Finance logos.
Aisha Suleiman

As Program Manager for AWS Educate, a global programme that teaches cloud computing skills and provides educators with resources to teach cloud computing, Aisha is proud to support the next generation of leaders. One of the regions she focuses on is Sub-Saharan Africa, and recently she worked with a training institution in Ghana to bring the programme to their organisation.

Alongside her day-to-day role, Aisha also acts as Chair of Amazon’s Black Employee Network (BEN) which promotes the inclusion of the diverse perspectives of people of Black African and Caribbean descent.

What does it mean to receive this kind of recognition?

“I’m delighted to be recognised for the work I’m doing. Running an employee network like BEN is extra work outside my day job, but I have a great team who are committed to achieving our aims. I hope this recognition can inspire others to take action within their own organisation!”

It is so important to send a message that you don’t have to be held back by other people’s expectations!
Aisha Suleiman, EMpower Ethnic Minority Role Model 2020

What work have you done to receive this award?

“There are a few big milestones in my career that I would highlight. Firstly, back in 2017 I founded BEN in the UK with a group of likeminded people. We support Amazon’s diversity and inclusion objectives by championing the diverse perspectives of people of African and Caribbean descent in the UK. Our activities are focused on professional development for employees, networking events and community outreach, with a focus on young people. I was particularly proud of our innovative Black History Month celebrations last year.”

“Within the support of Amazon’s Global Diversity team, I am also involved in planning activities and initiatives designed to demonstrate how race impacts our daily lives while fostering an understanding of inequalities that exist in society.”

“Outside of work, I launched a website last year called The World in Her Words, which aims to inspire women to curate their careers, cultivate confidence and build balanced relationships through stories. The ‘Wonder Women’ series covers stories of women following their dreams and achieving amazing things in the process.”

Why is it important to celebrate achievement among ethnic minorities?

“It’s so important to send a message that you don’t have to be held back by other people’s expectations!”

“Young people in the UK need to see more positive role models that look like them. Growing up in a country where you are in the minority means you do not always see yourself represented in particular industries. By raising the visibility of successful role models, we can illustrate the huge range of options that are available to young people, no matter which path they pursue.”

“It’s also important for businesses to acknowledge that diversity can benefit them in the long run. When employees feel that they can be themselves at work and are given the credit they deserve, they will ultimately be at their best.”

What advice would you give to any future ethnic minority leaders who are looking to break down boundaries?

“Look at history and find out more about individuals who broke down boundaries. Those people did not follow somebody else’s lead - they set their own example and achieved their goals with persistence, discipline, self-belief and support from others. You can too!”

“There may be people who don’t support you along the way, but remember that there will also be many more people who want to support you and want you to succeed. Those people are your tribe and together you can achieve anything.”

Rashada Harry - Enterprise Account Manager, AWS

Headshot of Rashada Harry for the EMpower and Yahoo Finance Ethnic Minority Role Model Lists 2020
Rashada Harry

Rashada co-leads Women@AWS for Amazon in the UK, and she also volunteers with BEN to support the network’s important work on diversity and inclusion.

Outside of work, Rashada sits on the board of EngineeringUK and of Talawa, the UK’s only black touring theatre company. She also founded Your Future, Your Ambition (YFYA), leading 30 organisations and 300+ individual volunteers to mentor, educate, inspire and encourage hundreds of students every year to pursue careers in STEM. To date, YFYA has hosted events for more than 7,000 students – helping to build a more diverse STEM talent pipeline in the UK.

What does it mean to receive this kind of recognition?

“It means the world to me. I see this as recognition not just for myself, but also for the hundreds of volunteers involved with YFYA, plus my colleagues and peers at Amazon who work collectively to drive forward the agenda for diversity and inclusion.”

“I always say that we each have two hands: one to help ourselves up, and another to help those behind us. That’s my guiding principle for us all to create positive change, not just in our generation but for the generations after us.”

I always say that we have two hands: one to help ourselves up, and another to help those behind us.
Rashada Harry, EMpower Top 100 Ethnic Minority Executive 2020

What work have you done to receive this award?

“YFYA launched its first event in 2012 when 14 organisations came together at London’s Olympic Park, with the aim of inspiring young people aged 7 to 23 from diverse backgrounds into pursuing STEM careers.”

“Since then, we have held 8 annual events impacting more than 7,000 young people and students at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. Last year, we incorporated the Arts into the event theme for the first time, and this year we’re providing activities, exposure and experiences in a virtual format.”

“More than 350 people make these events possible, entirely in a voluntary capacity. You cannot underestimate the value of that collective effort. We all want these young people to see themselves, to feel represented and inspired.”

Why is it important to celebrate achievement among ethnic minorities?

“At university, I studied Law and was driven by the intersection of law and technology. Later on, when I first joined the tech industry, the role I applied for had more than eight thousand applications with 44 final placements. I was the only black person selected across EMEA. Those experiences showed that more needs to be done to be inclusive.”

A selfie of Amazon employees from the Black Employee Network

“I wanted to highlight and raise focus to the issues within the STEM industry that it is not only white and male, and to do that we had to raise the visibility of brilliant people who were already creating that change. That being said, there is still some way to go in achieving diverse and inclusive representation within industry.”

“When a young girl sees somebody like herself in a senior position, that creates a powerful sense of possibility. But there’s a big difference between simply understanding what’s possible, and genuinely believing it. We want to make sure every young person has the opportunity to realise their dreams and fulfil their true potential.”

“In my view, diversity is about appreciating the differences between people, and inclusion is the process of giving those perspectives a platform to be heard and acknowledged. Diversity means being invited to the party, and inclusion means being asked to dance.”

What advice would you give to any future ethnic minority leaders who are looking to break down boundaries?

“Surround yourself with people who keep you motivated, who challenge you, and who keep you grounded. My friends come from all walks of life – from business connections to friends I’ve known since primary school each providing unique perspectives and views which I always appreciate and value.”

“In the same way diversity in society and in business is invaluable, it’s important that the people around you are providing diverse perspectives, different life experiences and different areas of expertise. A mix of opinions and views not only challenge you to think differently but also helps guide decisions that instigates meaningful change.”

Find out more about diversity at Amazon.