Women’s lifestyle site Refinery29 has been put under the spotlight for its record with people of color on staff.
Amid national protests over the police killings of George Floyd and other unarmed black people, as well as centuries of systemic racism in the U.S., some companies, including media organizations ranging from The New York Times to Paper magazine, have been taken to task for their own shortcomings.
Founded in 2005 by husband-and-wife team Philippe von Borries and Piera Gelardi, along with Christene Barberich and Justin Stefano, the shopping and feminist lifestyle site Refinery29 has surged in popularity, culminating in a sale to Vice Media last year in a deal worth a reported $400 million.
But according to a number of accounts that former POC staffers posted to Twitter, there has been a series of shortcomings internally over the years.
Former deputy director of news and politics Ashley Alese Edwards, who began the Twitter thread earlier this week, said when she worked there, management tried to push her to go on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson’s show “fully knowing what kind of harassment would be brought my way if I did.…Luckily I had the good sense to refuse.”
“It’s really time WE as a community hold these brands accountable. Enough is enough. I’m no longer being silent or nice about it,” she added. “You know what real ally-ship looks like? Paying your black employees fairly, having black women in top leadership positions & addressing the micro-aggressions your black employees deal with from management on a daily basis.”
Ashley C. Ford posted that during her near-nine months as senior features writer at Refinery29, there was a “toxic company culture where white women’s egos ruled the near nonexistent editorial processes” and one of the founders consistently confused her and another employee. On top of this, “pay disparity was atrocious.”
“This is not to say that *I* personally was underpaid, as I was not, but it didn’t take long to learn that no other black woman at the company was making anything close to my salary, while they were being overworked and underappreciated. I went back to freelancing.”
Former entertainment writer Sesali Bowen also wrote that an executive asked her if she was a caterer “because I told her she couldn’t open the bottle of wine that I was saving for an event”
And former fashion news editor Channing Hargrove added that she will never forget the editor in chief asking her to write an apology piece to white women for writing about them appropriating gold chains after her article went viral.
In a statement sent to WWD, she further elaborated on her experiences at Refinery29: “I asked to have culture added to my title so that my role directly reflected my output at the company. The editor in chief told me a title change was not necessary. There were not any black editors at the time on staff available for me to work with on my pieces. Two years later, they hired a white woman to oversee style and culture.”
She added that she began to doubt her own abilities and contributions and was burnt out. “Working under such conditions takes a toll mentally and spiritually. I feel like I have PTSD from the environment and toxicity from upper management.”
In response, the Refinery29 Union said it stands in solidarity with these women and have written a letter to management asking for immediate action at the highest level. It later add that editorial directors also sent a letter to management.
In a statement, Refinery29 leadership said: “We want to use this moment and this platform to say: We hear you. We are, and have always been, a company and a brand that seeks to hold ourselves accountable as we elevate underrepresented voices. And we recognize that commitment starts within our own walls. These changes will require a comprehensive look and assessment of ourselves, and we are committed to doing that work.”
Other media outlets have also come into the frame this week. At The Times, the publication first defended an oped by Sen. Tom Cotton headlined “Send in the Troops,” but later said it did not meet its editorial standards, while at WWD’s sister publication Variety, editor in chief Claudia Eller has been placed on administrative leave after several controversial tweets.
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