*Today Essence magazine is responding to some unknown forces from within its predominantly Black female staff.
The organization is being accused of unequal pay, sexual harassment, corporate bullying, intimidation, colorism, and classism. The goal of “exposing” the company is to compel advertisers to basically boycotted the Black female-targeted brand to force it to better treat its employees.
In a Medium blog published on Sunday (06-28-20), it is alleged that the Black women who are employed for Essence are unhappy working under the company’s chief officers, including Essence Ventures owner and CEO Richelieu Dennis.
The unhappy employees, who go by the name Black Female Anonymous, say the company’s leadership is making the magazine the “most deceptive Black media company in America” by exploiting movements like the #BlackGirlMagic for monetary gain.
The rogue group not only points its collective finger at Dennis, but Essence Ventures board member and former Essence Communications CEO Michelle Ebanks, COO Joy Collins Profet, and CCO Moana Luu are named as key actors in the workplace downfall of the trusted Black print.
On top of the foregoing, the Medium blog post stated that the company has a two-year history of wrongfully laying off or forcing Black women to resign.
Whoa, that’s a lot to digest. However, as you can imagine, Essence isn’t going to let the accusations go unanswered because there is a lot at stake. Below is the company’s official response.
THIS STATEMENT IS IN RESPONSE TO A RECENT ANONYMOUS POST. WE DENY THE ACCUSATIONS AND REFUTE THEM WITHOUT RESERVATION.
Candidly, the last 24 hours have been heartbreaking. At ESSENCE, we uplift the voices of, provide platforms for, and generate opportunities that elevate Black women and communities and have done so for 50 years. It is the work we have committed ourselves to every single day since we were founded in 1970 and that has been accelerated over our past two years as a 100% Black family-owned company creating opportunities for Black creatives and leaders in an industry that has failed them.
When faced with challenging moments, we believe that truth and clarity are foremost, and after taking the time to connect with our teams and engage with each other, we want to be very clear about one thing. It is extremely important to us that we foster a safe, transparent and respectful workspace for everyone and that we expect that from everyone – not just those who work for us, but also those who work with us.
Still, anonymity does not negate accountability. Facts will always matter, and we are not afraid of the truth. The allegations and mischaracterizations throughout – whether of pay inequity, intimidation, and otherwise – are unfounded attempts to discredit our brand and assassinate personal character. Further, accusations of sexual harassment or misconduct are extremely serious matters, and we fully understand the gravity of the implications. As such, these are also not claims to be recklessly and untruthfully thrown about – particularly when there have been no claims to respond to or any evidence of such defamatory accusations. In fact, there have been multiple comprehensive reviews of the HR function, and no evidence has been found to substantiate these anonymous claims. We have and will continue to review any legitimate claims of any nature that come to our attention.
As a multi-platform media, technology and commerce company led predominately by Black women, we are committed to working with those who see and believe in our vision for ESSENCE. Our leaders and the business are committed to the economic elevation of our communities so that as we thrive, so do they and the Black people who invest in us with their time, talent, content, subscriptions and beyond. Every business decision we make is with that in mind – and we don’t always expect that everyone will agree with every decision. That would simply be unrealistic. However, we do make every effort to be transparent and open in what we are doing and why we are doing it as we work to transform this business to meet the potential it has always had. Some people will be open to the vision and the journey, and others will not. But in no way at
any time does that give anyone the right to so grossly misrepresent the truth at best and make up lies at worst about who we are as an organization.
ESSENCE is a business in transition. It is never an easy or seamless process extracting a company from a conglomerate with shared services and establishing it as an independent with stand-alone functions. As part of the execution of our strategic growth plan, with our entire team, we have and will continue to create a culture that is our own and that reflects the values and vision for a Black-owned business.
This includes the June 2 announcement of the hiring of Caroline Wanga, a C-level executive who has a proven track record of building healthy teams and workplace cultures at a Fortune 50 company, as our new Chief Growth Officer. She is charged with HR/reshaping organizational culture, assessing and establishing operational strategies, new growth opportunities and market strategy. Prior, we built an HR function from the ground-up, supported by a family executive with over 25 years of HR experience who led the transition while we searched for a full-time HR lead; increased town halls from monthly to weekly to foster honest and transparent conversations across the organization; and instituted third-party services, including but not limited to the independent Employee Assistance Program to give employees additional external support and access to resources.
The fact is that this is an ongoing process given our two-year leadership of a 50-year- old company, but we’ve made significant strides in building this company back up and continue to accelerate the pace at which we evolve it for the benefit of our entire community. We are extremely proud of our teams and the work they continue to put into this transition, which is evident by the mounting of our first-ever streaming ESSENCE Festival last week, as well as a much-improved magazine and digital content, new world-class technology platforms, the expansion of experiences that elevate our culture and a deep commitment to enriching each other.
As we close, our message is simple – the accusations are false and we fully deny them. We are not succumbing to a cancel culture. We are not going to defame anyone. We are not meeting hurt with hurt. We know there is a lot of pain and a lot of healing that needs to happen in our communities, but we don’t have to destroy each other to heal.
We will continue to do the work to be better every day and come together as an organization for each other and for Black women globally to build together, to change together, to rise together. #BlackWomenRiseTogether