Black Women Are Calling Out Employers, But There’s Still Work To Be Done

Apologies are not enough. Things need to change internally — here’s how.

A Black businesswoman at work on her computer in her home office.
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

There is a reckoning coming for those complicit in perpetuating racial injustice in America. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have caused a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement that cannot be ignored. The disregard for Black lives is not a new issue. We’ve seen protests and outrage before but this time feels different. This moment turned movement has garnered new attention to the plight of Black people in America — a topic that spans every aspect of Black life.

In the new age of accountability culture, Black women in media are saying “No more” to their toxic work environments that leave them creatively stifled and mentally abused.

Former Black Refinery29 employees used the hashtag #BlackAtR29 to share their experience with racism at the publication including pay gaps, inability to advance, and other microaggressions they had to endure on a daily basis from the executive level down. On June 8, Refinery29 co-founder and Editor in Chief Christene Barberich resigned from her position due to the numerous tweets under the hashtag that gave unfavorable accounts of her reign.

It wasn’t long before we’ve seen the domino effect of these confessions.

Black women unburdened themselves by sharing their experience working within the confines of media organizations such as the Los Angeles Times, and Complex. No industry was left untouched as other companies followed suit with relieving their executives from duty, such as Pinterest, Reformation, The Wing, and Second City — all of which had Black women among their whistleblower collective.

In the new age of accountability culture, Black women in media are saying “No more” to their toxic work environments that leave them creatively stifled and mentally abused.

Brit + Co had been called out in their comment sections by myself and a few others offering ways to become better allies.

When I worked at Brit + Co, first as the company’s Snapchat editor before transitioning to email marketing manager, my immediate supervisor dismissed every rough draft and idea that I had. I would have to field questions on projects that I had no knowledge of because of her frequent absences from the desk or I was excluded from meetings altogether.

After one particular meeting, I was scolded for disagreeing with her idea, accused of being insubordinate, and refusing to be a team player. I heard rumblings from co-workers in other departments that she expressed that I was difficult to work with, a go-to for White women when referring to Black women. During Black History Month, I spent each week asking why there hadn’t been any social media content to commemorate it. I was told by the director of marketing that Black History Month just “wasn’t on their radar” and that they’d make an effort to be more proactive next year. They wound up posting an Instagram quote from Beyoncé.

Unfortunately, the lack of protection for Black women is not limited to only White spaces. On June 22, former employees of OkayAfrica and OkayPlayer mobilized to speak about their experience working under the leadership of CEO and publisher, Abiola Oke. One woman wrote that she witnessed his “disdain for women who challenged his leadership, his manipulation, gaslighting and vindictiveness against those he felt personally slighted by.” On June 24, founder of the site, Questlove, announced the accepted resignation of Abiola Oke as CEO and publisher of OkayPlayer and OkayAfrica saying, “This was long overdue” with a promise of more changes to come.

Part of systemic justice is to move beyond statements and actually integrate the corporations through advancement and pay equality.

Then on June 28, an anonymous group of women published a piece on Medium about the work culture at Essence. In the article, #BlackFemaleAnonymous called for the resignation of several executives including the owner of Essence Ventures, Richelieu Dennis, for “pay inequity, sexual harassment, corporate bullying, intimidation, colorism, and classism.” Days after the release of the article, Caroline A. Wanga was appointed as interim CEO, and the executives listed in the article, including Dennis, have resigned.

Part of systemic justice is to move beyond statements and actually integrate the corporations through advancement and pay equality. The National Association of Black Journalists issued a statement on July 3, acknowledging that while the resignation of executives at OkayPlayer, OkayAfrica, and Essence is a start, the organizations must move “swiftly to rectify the issues and provide remedies, resources, apologies to the women impacted.”

So here are some potential solutions: Outsource your human resources department so that there can be an objective eye on complaints filed in order to eliminate retaliation. Have that team conduct interviews with employees, or issue regular surveys to collect information regarding the culture and climate of the company. Have them assess the issues and make recommendations on how to move forward.

Integrate the leadership teams. Set up an accountability team within the company to act as an additional check and balance. The team should consist of a representative from each department and meet at least biweekly to discuss workplace culture and present any grievances to the group. This will keep everyone in the loop about potential problems and complaints while allowing everyone to be a part of creating solutions.

Put action behind your rewritten company mission statement. Make participation in activism mandatory for all levels. Use team-building activities to volunteer at various organizations to contribute to solutions for social injustice. Working side by side with each tier of management will strengthen the interpersonal relationships within the office as well as the company’s relationship with the community they serve.

The protests continue to serve as an outward display of the revolt of Black people unwilling to settle for the Black experience America has deemed fit to give us. Thanks to these revelations, some changes have been made, but this is only the beginning. So, we’ll hold our applause for now until the end of the show, until policies are rewritten, until Black employees are valued, elevated, and protected until Black lives, in every space, matter.

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