Richelieu Dennis, the CEO of Essence, has resigned from the position after a group of anonymous women accused the executive of sexual harassment and fostering an unhealthy work environment in a lengthy essay published on Medium earlier this week.
Page Six reports that after initially denying the allegations, Essence has now made Caroline Wanga interim CEO and told employees that the company would be working to “ensure that Essence is the safe haven that we all expect.” In the Medium piece, published by a group known as “BlackFemaleAnonymous,” the group called not just for the resignation of Dennis but also Essence Ventures board member Michelle Ebanks, Chief Operating Officer Joy Collins Profet, and Chief Content Officer Moana Luu. They also called for companies like AT&T, Coca Cola, and more to eliminate sponsorships for the company until there is new leadership in place.
The Medium essay outlined why Essence’s brand as a haven for Black women and #blackgirlmagic—including the popular Essence Festival, notably featured in Girls Trip—does not extend to the Black women employees who work behind the scenes. The group writes that Dennis, the co-founder of haircare company SheaMoisture, had a history of sleeping with staff and that when women did not consent he “openly sexually harasses them at private company events.” Even though Dennis is leaving the CEO position, which he assumed temporarily, he still owns the Essence company which he bought in 2018 from Time Inc.
“Essence magazine is failing Black America,” the group BlackFemaleAnonymous wrote. “When Black media companies become unstable, it triggers the instability of the entire culture.” In addition to the appointing of a new CEO, USA Today also reports that Essence announced they were in “the process of hiring law firms and other independent external experts to assess and review the company’s policies.”
Update 7/2/20, 3:42 p.m.: Per an update from The Root, Essence issued a statement stating that while Dennis “helped to lead the team along with the ECI senior leadership team” he “never took on the roles or responsibilities of CEO. So he never stepped down from, resigned from or was replaced in any role.”
Correction: A previous version of this update incorrectly identified Caroline Wanga as the current interim editor of Essence instead of the current interim CEO. This post has also been updated throughout to more clearly reflect Dennis’s resignation.