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Historically White Beauty Industry Promises to Diversify Workforce

The disproportionately white beauty industry is actively looking to hire more Black employees. For some, it’s the first time.

Beauty companies are pulling up the curtains on the makeup of their staff.

The move to make diversity head counts transparent has been a widespread response to beauty veteran and Uoma Beauty founder and chief executive officer Sharon Chuter’s “Pull Up for Change” campaign. The social media initiative asks companies to reveal how many Black employees they have and further specify how many Black employees hold leadership positions. Major beauty businesses such as Estée Lauder, Shiseido, Revlon, Tatcha and Beautycounter have revealed their numbers.

“Some of the numbers are downright appalling considering the changing face of the target consumer,” said Ella Gorgla, cofounder of 25 Black Women in Beauty, a professional organization for Black women in the beauty industry.

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While Black consumers comprise a growing part of the U.S. population and sizable amount of total beauty spend — $473 million on hair, and $573 million on personal care, per Nielsen — Black employees are underrepresented in the beauty industry, across all levels of the business.

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But it’s not just representation of Black employees that’s a problem, said Gorgla — it’s treatment, too.

In the fall of 2019, Gorgla left her job as an executive director at the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. to start 25BWB after sensing a deep inequity for Black women working in the beauty industry, she said. Gorgla is a industriall engineer by trade and has worked across several industries, including consulting and financial services. The beauty industry, she said, proved the most uncomfortable environment as a Black executive she experienced, she said.

“There is a ceiling for Black women,” said Gorgla. “I know my credentials are above par and I do excellent work, but why am I in the same role for five-plus years, not getting promoted? I don’t see any Black people being promoted around me.”

There is now an unprecedented sense of urgency among beauty’s power players, sparked by Chuter’s campaign, to reverse the part they have played in perpetuating systemic racism. Beyond revealing employee statistics, some companies have outlined additional steps they plan to take — some of which start now.

Black women are now at the center of the conversation for beauty businesses, as companies look to hire more Black employees and roll out internal anti-racism initiatives.
Black women are now at the center of the conversation for beauty businesses, as companies look to hire more Black employees and roll out internal anti-racism initiatives. Illustrated by D’Ara Nazaryan

The Estée Lauder Cos. reported this week that it and its brands collectively have a 12 percent Black workforce. At Lauder, 4 percent of Black employees are executive director level and above, with 14 percent of Black employees at executive officer level. The company sent an internal memo across U.S. teams this week committing to hire more Black employees over the next five years. The business also said it would increase sourcing from Black-owned ingredients and packaging suppliers, and donate $10 million — up from its previously reported $1 million — to causes such as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

L’Oréal Paris has responded to public backlash from Munroe Bergdorf, the Black transgender model who was fired by the company in 2017 after speaking out publicly about racism at a white supremacy demonstration in Charlottesville, Va. L’Oréal Paris announced this week that it has added Bergdorf to the board of L’Oréal Paris U.K.

In an e-mail to L’Oréal USA’s 12,000 employees this week, president and ceo Stéphane Rinderknech and chief diversity officer Angela Guy announced the formation of a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory board. The board will be made up of members from inside and outside of the organization. It will be responsible for developing a “comprehensive, company-wide action plan on anti-racism,” according to a spokesperson.

Some of those initial plans include investing in “community-based organizations, nonprofits, civic and cultural institutions” and the creation of a training program “to support employees with information, research, resources, professional development and education on topics such as unconscious and implicit bias, cultural sensitivity and anti-racism.”

While some beauty businesses are already implementing changes, the majority have not yet outlined the steps they will take to increase diversity and anti-racism.

But sources said beauty businesses big and small are looking — some for the first time — to diversify their ranks across all levels by actively recruiting and retaining Black employees and executives. To do that, it will take a commitment to fostering young Black talent and filling high-ranking roles with Black executives, outreach to universities and professional organizations and a top-down shift in culture to get there.

“It’s always been a part of the conversation. Has it been treated with the level of commitment? No,” said Lisa Marie Ringus, executive vice president for global client strategy and growth at recruiting firm 24-Seven. “You can definitely sense in some of those responses [from large beauty companies] the tone and the tenor of how they’re responding — it’s almost like the establishment has been shaken.”

“I feel like this moment will force systemic change,” agreed Gorgla. “It won’t pass [for] the brands that are hoping it will pass. Folks are going to keep the foot on the gas until they start seeing changes — seeing a Black woman head a major beauty brand.”

Shella Abe, co-head and partner at True Search, an executive search firm that works with beauty companies, said change is inevitable.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before, never,” Abe said. “Change is coming and it’s being implemented whether you’re forced to do it or not.”

“It’s an open and productive discussion — it’s not like ‘check-the-box, I sent Shella and her team an e-mail about hiring Black candidates,’ — it’s like, ‘we want to be part of this change, teach us how we can go about doing that,’” Abe said. “I have one [client] saying, ‘In light of recent events, this is something we’ve been thinking about, we’d like to see more Black candidates in the pool that you’d present. I’ve never gotten that request before.”

Starting this summer, True Search will begin working exclusively with a start-up that centers around diverse executive hiring. Abe said the business is still in stealth mode. Diverse candidates will be invited to the platform, and companies and private equity firms with jobs can upload them there.

Search firms don’t have a way to tick a diversity box in their systems to identify candidates because of reverse discrimination laws, but recruiters are finding other ways to make sure they put forward more Black candidates for beauty positions.

For their part, companies should be having discussions on multiple levels — actively considering Black candidates for open roles, and building out pipelines of Black candidates, Abe said.

Partnering with professional organizations like 25 Black Women in Beauty and recruiting from historically Black colleges and universities are places to start, experts said. But companies also need to make meaningful anti-racism change inside their organizations. That includes bias training across the board, especially in recruitment.

Companies need to do internal trainings and partnering with outside organizations, said Ringus.

“The quick response is like, OK we have to partner with 25 Black Women in Beauty, but doing that alone without the internal training development and evaluating recruitment and how [companies] promote within has to be coupled together, it can’t just be one without the other,” Ringus said. “There’s not an organization out there that the partnership alone is going to solve the problem. You still have the hiring problem, the evaluation, vetting of employees, the bias there is in recruitment.”

On the culture side, Abe recommends companies tap a diversity and inclusion consultant to help institute changes and cut out biases in the hiring process.

“That person will help you put in the right programs to build a culture that’s very open, collaborative, that isn’t hostile because it’s so systematic. If the ceo isn’t wired that way, you need the consultant coming in with that expertise to help implement that change,” Abe said. “If you don’t create an environment where your employees feel safe and motivated that’s when you basically fail. It starts with a lot of communication from the top — a ton.”

Neal Semel, cofounder of Diversity Matters, an Ohio-based diversity and inclusion training consultancy, said changing a company’s culture is often “a slow build.”

“Messaging of ‘this is for you’ needs to be consistent,” Semel said. “Right now, the competition for qualified minority candidates in every industry is tremendous. We’re seeing people aren’t as interested in salaries as they are in all of the other things that contribute to a nice life, like finding other people to socialize with and having an upward trajectory in a career path.

“You’ve got to think on all levels of what things are keeping folks out of your industry,” Semel continued. “Very often it’s, no one’s been there before. Nobody wants to be the first in the door. Once you have people within the organization, it gets a lot easier.”

Representation in the c-suite is an important factor in changing company culture, said Chuter.

“It’s easier for a Black person to feel comfortable in an organization where [there is] a Black executive who understands my unique issues,” said Chuter. “It has to happen top down. There has to be a conscious effort, specifically for the Black community. A lot of people are not understanding that the Black situation in America is unique. There was no other race in America that America had a civil war for.”

Ringus said employing a “forward-thinking, inclusive leader” is “paramount” to whether companies can move forward.

“The shift that has to take place from vetting and recruitment and organizational design, there has to be that empathetic leadership in place in order to really support the long-term opportunity for really changing the fabric of what inclusion means for a company,” said Ringus. “If you’re not an empathetic leader of your people [with] an authentic leadership style and willingness to hear the thoughts of your employees, there’s going to be some challenges,” Ringus said.

Abe said that some change could potentially be seen within the next six months, especially given faster recruiting processes due to the coronavirus and Zoom meetings. But for big change, Ringus said it would probably take years. “This shift in the systemic behavior of how companies operate is a very long-term ongoing commitment. There is no short fix because this has gone on for such a long time,” Ringus said.

Having a diverse talent base can make for an easier workflow, too. Lela Coffey, vice president, hair care portfolio and multicultural beauty, P&G North America, underscored the importance of having an employee base that reflects the consumer.

“We’ve got to be able to have depth of diversity in the businesses if we’re going to serve this diverse consumer. That’s not only the people that are marketing the product, I’m talking about the people that are designing the products,” Coffey said. “For our multicultural hair portfolio — [Pantene] Gold Series, My Black Is Beautiful, [Head & Shoulders] Royal Oils — the people who are designing those products, the scientists, the Ph.D.s behind those are Black women with a multitude of hair types. We don’t just look at the diversity on the marketing team, but all through the team — and diversity of our agency partners.”

Outsourced talent is an equal part of P&G’s overall approach to diversity. The company makes an active effort to ensure the creative agencies with which it works are diverse, said Coffey.

That involves “making sure we’re using diverse people in front of the cameras as well as behind the cameras.”

“For my multicultural brands, we are using agencies that are Black-owned or Black-led to make sure we are connecting with those partners in the way that we should be and making sure we’re sensing where the consumer is going,” Coffey said.

Diversity is certainly needed in the c-suite to drive change, but change needs to happen beyond the c-suite level, said Gorgla, adding that Black talent is severely lacking in creative and communications departments across the industry. The 25BWB job board shows director, vice president and senior level roles across businesses including Coty, Revlon, Ulta Beauty, Glossier, Amazon, Maesa, Hatch Beauty and Versed.

“Functional groups are key,” said Gorgla. “We need more writers, more creative — it’s so odd for beauty, with these forward-facing campaigns [featuring Black women] to not have Black people in marketing.”

Key Takeaways:

The beauty industry is more aware of systemic racism than ever before, but still lacks meaningful representation.

Depth of diversity, from the c-suite through to the entire organization, is needed to create a truly meaningful cultural transformation.

Short-term fixes won’t be enough. Companies will need to commit to long-term solutions, and be held accountable if change doesn’t continue to happen.

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