Sharon Chuter, the founder of makeup brand UOMA Beauty, posed a challenge to fellow beauty brand owners last week on Instagram. “We ask all brands who have released a statement of support to publicly release within the next 72 hours the number of black employees they have in their organizations at a corporate level,” Chuter wrote on Instagram, adding the tag #pulluporshutup. “You all have statements and policies about being equal opportunity employers, so show us the proof.”
It is nearly impossible to get a company to release internal numbers on diversity, as the data often paints a very white picture. But somehow, Chuter’s challenge to beauty companies was accepted and the results were a PR rep’s nightmare. The proof came flooding in with brands like DevaCurl, Glossier, Supergoop, Revlon and more sharing internal numbers and confirming what most beauty consumers assumed to be true: there are a lot of white people at the top. It was most surprising to see a company like DevaCurl that has made its fortune off mostly minority women with curly hair, with only 19% black staff and only 8% of black employees on the leadership team. A company like Milk, known for its promotion of inclusivity and diversity, using black and POC as models in advertisements includes only 9% black employees. (Milk also made a commitment to do better in the future which led to former employees sharing racist encounters they faced while working at the company.)
Meanwhile, Kylie Cosmetics, a brand founded by a family that appropriates black culture for a (very lucrative) living, reported 13% of employees were black while 47% were listed as BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color), and 53% are white. Glossier reported 9% black employees with none in leadership roles.
In total, just over 80 beauty brands willingly told on themselves in an effort to be fully transparent, and more than half included promises or plans to do better in the future.
The willingness to share this information, which will undoubtedly make some companies look bad, comes only after organizers and activists encouraged the masses to reconsider where their dollars were going. But participating in the pull-up or shut-up challenge seems like a fearful reaction for the future of their bottom line. McKinsey estimates that although the beauty industry has always been resilient, “revenues could fall 20 to 30 percent in 2020,” as a result of Covid-19 and its effects on the economy. Any bounceback could be slowed if black consumers, who make up a large percentage of certain categories of beauty spending, choose to redirect their money to companies that actually do the work of prioritizing black lives and black causes. According to a 2019 Neilsen report, “African Americans dominate the ethnic hair and beauty aids category, accounting for almost 90% of the overall spend,” and “42% of Black adults expect brands they purchase to support social causes.”
It’s no longer enough to perform allyship, people want to see concrete action. As hard as it is to admit poor hiring practices and course correct, beauty brands aren’t just out to do the morally righteous thing, they’re out to secure their futures.