On June 3, CEO of Uoma Beauty Sharon Chuter released a challenge for companies:
Pull up or shut up. Within 72 hours, Uoma Beauty publicly released the number of Black employees in their organizations’ HQ, satellite offices and executive leadership positions.
Chuter stated, “Whereas we understand and appreciate the support, be conscious that to piggy back off a trending hashtag when you have been and continue to be a part of the problem is once again appropriating and exploiting the black community.”
The challenge has since been extended and grown into a life of its own — transforming from just a hashtag to a dedicated Instagram page with over 116,000 followers as of June 16.
The challenge was created in response to companies making positive PR statements and donations in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. At face value, it’s great to see non-Black owned companies supporting the Black community. However, these corporate responses, as Chuter points out, fall short when they come off as performative allyship.
Performative allyship is when a person, or in this case a company, from a non-marginalized group shows solidarity for a marginalized group in a way that either isn’t helpful or actively harms the marginalized group. In this case, it refers to companies that show allyship toward the BLM movement through social media posts to gain social clout, versus actively helping to create systematic and long-term changes through their hiring and business practices. (We’re looking looking at you the infamous “black square”).
Transparency in the beauty industry
Beauty companies like Milk Makeup and Glossier have already released their diversity numbers to mixed opinions. Some are applauding them for their openness toward changing HR policies and committing to hiring more POC and Black employees. However, others find these companies positive PR statements and their “transparency” hypocritical.
Out of the Glossier’s 250 corporate employees, 9% identify as Black. On top of this, there are zero Black individuals in top leadership roles. Out of Milk Makeup’s 45 full-time team members, 9% identify as Black and there are zero Black team members at the executive level.
While many brands profit from beauty campaigns cast with a diverse range of models and ambassadors, some view this as insincere considering these same organizations also employ a low percentage of Black employees. Even worse, several of these brands have created negative work environments for their POC and Black employees.
Edelawit Hussein, a former Milk Makeup creative producer, called out the beauty brand’s “allyship” with their #PullUporShutUp post on her personal instagram page, @edelaithussein. Hussein referenced instances of her and other Black employees having co-workers use derogatory slang towards them and other inappropriate behavior while working under VP of Marketing Nicole Frusci.
ColourPop Cosmetics has also received backlash from their #PullUporShutUp post. With Black employees make up only 3% of the workplace, influencers have long been calling out the brand’s lack of support for Black content creators on the brand’s social media account.
Influencers @neonmua and @killer_kinggg created the #ColourPopMeBlack movement, which encourages Black beauty influencers to post the hashtag and call out ColourPop’s lack of representation. ColourPop Cosmetics later issued a formal apology to the creators of this social media movement and vowed to promote and hire more Black creators and employees.
The Power of the “Black Dollar”
If there are any questions as to why beauty brands should be taking the initiative to hire more Black and POC employees at the corporate and executive level, let’s take into consideration the power of the “Black Dollar.”
The Nielsen Report revealed that black women spend $7.5 billion dollars annually on beauty products, spending nine times more than their non-Black counterparts. Black women alone have strong power in the beauty industry. With brands being called out to be more truthful about their business and hiring practices, the impact of this group of people is evident now more than ever.
A major example of the spending power of Black women in the beauty industry is the “Fenty Effect”, otherwise known as the “Fenty 40.” When Fenty Beauty launched with 40 shades of foundation, the industry was shook. Deeper shades of the foundation repeatedly sold out in the first few months of the launch.
Influencers and beauty lovers alike praised Fenty Beauty for their diverse shade range that covered various undertones. As a result, many brands felt the pressure to step up. Now many beauty brands launch with 40 shades of foundation, or at the least offer a much more diverse shade range than was previously the norm.
Brands are taking part in other equality initiatives on top of the #PullUporShutUp campaign such as the #15PercentPledge.
On the campaign’s official Instagram page, @15percentpledge, the non-profit organization stated: “Black people in the U.S. make up nearly 15% of the population. We’re asking brands to pledge 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses.”
As of June 10, Sephora stepped up as the first major retailer to take the #15PercentPledge. Other major retail brands such as Target, Whole Foods and Shopbop are being strongly encouraged to take the pledge.
Now more than ever, brands are being held up to a higher, more truthful standard about their business and hiring policies. As the retail world adapts to the realities of both this political climate and a post COVID-19 shopping world, we will see how companies hold up to these promises of change.