In response to criticisms of problematic working conditions by multiple former Refintery29 black women staff members, the New York-based online publication issued a statement on Thursday (June 4, 2020).
Published on social media, the statement reads in part, “We would like to recognize and acknowledge the conversations raised by our former employees around their experience working at Refinery29 as Black women and women of color. While we have had conversations internally and are continuing to do so, we want to use this moment and this platform to say: We hear you. We are, and have always been, a company a brand that seeks to hold ourselves accountable as we elevate underrepresented voices. And we recognize that commitment begins within our own walls.
‘Those changes will require a comprehensive look and assessment of ourselves, and we are committed to doing that work, along with our VICE Media Group teams, to make sure you see action and can hold us truly accountable.’
Refinery29 was founded in 2005 in New York and boasts 450 employees globally with offices in Los Angeles, Berlin and London. In August, it received $45 million in funding from WarnerMedia. The platform was acquired by Vice Media in 2019 in a deal valued at $400 million. Christene Barberich is the editor-in-chief of Refinery29 while Nancy Dubuc is the current CEO of Vice Media.
Statement from Refinery29 Leadership: pic.twitter.com/9ahtrn8s5w— Refinery29 (@Refinery29) June 5, 2020
I worked at Refinery29 for less than nine months due to a toxic company culture where white women’s egos ruled the near non-existent editorial processes. One of the founders consistently confused myself and one our full-time front desk associates & pay disparity was atrocious.— Ashley C. Ford (@iSmashFizzle) June 4, 2020
The statement was in large part a response to multiple accounts by former staff members who responded to Refinery29’s decision to black out its Twitter header and post a black block on its feed on Tuesday as a part of a show of solidarity with demonstrators protesting police brutality.
Former Refinery29 staffer Ashley Alese Edward responded to the publication of the blacked-out page on Twitter where she wrote, “Hey @Refinery29, cool blacked out homepage! But you know what real allyship looks like? Paying your Black employees fairly, having Black women in top leadership positions & addressing the microagressions your Black employees deal with from management on a daily basis.”
Some of you might know me from my work at Refinery29, where I largely wrote about Black beauty. A lot of you don’t know the story behind those stories. (Thread) #blackatR29— Khalea Underwood (@letsbeKHAlear) June 5, 2020
On Twitter, former editor Khalea Underwood created a threaded post about being stifled while at Refinery29 as a black beauty editor. “I loved my beat, but I wanted to take advantage of the ‘diverse storytelling’ that the brand prides itself on. When I’d ask for more responsibility, or when I’d try to attend events and take brand meetings to learn more about beauty, I was all but discouraged from doing so,” wrote Underwood, who added, “My growth was stunted with redundant roundups and faux outraged hot takes that I was encouraged to write.”
In addition to limits placed on what she could write about, Underwood also said there were multiple instances of editors publicly “making fun of the quality of other people’s work, writing speed, their ideas, and even the site’s 67% Project,” an effort by the media platform to makes images of plus-sized women more visible.
Soon, I began second-guessing everything that I did, wore, wrote, pitched, & said. For the first time in my life, I experienced anxiety attacks. One was so bad that I had to take myself to the ER, fearing that I was experiencing a heart attack. I was losing my voice and my mind.— Khalea Underwood (@letsbeKHAlear) June 5, 2020
When Underwood applied for a more senior writing position, she was told by staff she “wasn’t ready.” Now a beauty editor at The Zoe Report, Underwood explained that her self confidence at the publication was hit hard enough that she suffered first-time panic attacks, one of which landed her in an emergency room.
I’m done with speaking in code about my experiences at R29. So in the spirit of solidarity with my former coworkers of color:— Andrea González-Ramírez (@andreagonram) June 3, 2020
For most of my three years, I was paid $15,000 less than my two white coworkers while doing the exact same job. I covered the wage gap often, ironically. https://t.co/VvbZgohKi8
As a former @Refinery29 employee I started at $35K/year. I later learned my white male counterpart was making $55K/year. We had the same title. I asked for a promotion and they put me on a 6-month plan. I met all my goals and received a title change but no pay increase. https://t.co/oRQB5IfJjK— Nnekaxoxo (@Nnekaxoxo) June 4, 2020
Additional editors who described the Refinery29 work environment as problematic include Channing Hargrove, Ashley C. Ford and Ashley Alese Edwards, who alleged she was paid “$15,000 less than my two coworkers while doing the exact same job.” Her complaint was confirmed by a former Refinery29 staffer who wrote, “I started at $35K/year. I later learned my white male counterpart was making $55K/year.” We had the same title.”