Christene Barberich, global EIC and co-founder of the women’s website Refinery29, is stepping down from her position after writers of color called out the site’s racism and gatekeeping on social media.
In a statement posted to Instagram, Barberich wrote that after reading the “raw and personal accounts of Black women and women of color regarding their experiences inside our company at Refinery29,” she now understands that Refinery29, which is currently owned by VICE Media Group, has to change. To that end: “I will be stepping aside in my role at R29 to help diversify our leadership in editorial and ensure this brand and the people it touches can spark a new defining chapter,” Barberich writes.
In an internal memo acquired by Jezebel, VICE’s CEO Nancy Duboc writes to staff that Barberich will stay with the company through a transition period as Refinery29 looks for a new EIC and will “remain a part of our community as one of R29’s founders.” In addition to opening the position up to internal candidates, Duboc also writes that leadership positions currently frozen in a hiring freeze will be open for recruiting with an emphasis on diversity. Barberich’s eventual stepping down from the position, according to the memo, was in discussion since Refinery29 was acquired by VICE in 2019.
The discussion of racism within Refinery29 began when former employees of color began speaking out about their experiences working at the company on Twitter. These individual anecdotes reflect longstanding racist gatekeeping in fashion media. Ashley Alese Edwards, who worked at the site as the deputy director of news and politics, called out the site for not paying black employees fairly and failing to put them in leadership positions. Edwards also revealed that management “actively” tried to get her to go on Tucker Carlson’s show without considering the abuse she’d definitely receive. (She refused.)
Andrea González-Ramírez, a former news and politics writer for Refinery29, shared that she was “paid $15,000 less than my two white coworkers while doing the exact same job” for most of the three years she worked there. Other writers shared how they were tokenized, were underpaid compared to white colleagues, and fired for mistakes white editors made.
Refinery29's leadership released a statement in response to the stories, writing “we hear you” and gesturing vaguely at work to be done. The Refinery29 union tweeted a statement of solidarity with the former staffers, adding that they wrote a letter to management asking for “immediate action at the highest level.”