As companies stepped over each other this summer to show allyship with the Black Lives Matter movement, one company in the personal care sector stood out. Only a few years ago, Glossier disrupted the cosmetic and personal care industry with its customer-focused approach and the harnessing of crowdsourcing tactics to develop new products. In an industry that often takes a top-down approach directing how and when women should use makeup, Glossier turned the model on its head, and fans say it “democratized” cosmetics. Its flagship store in New York, followed by one in Los Angeles and then several pop-up stores, became consumer favorites.
Glossier took fast action as protests over the murder of George Floyd flared up and then grew stronger across the U.S. A $1 million donation to the Black Lives Matter movement and Black-owned beauty brands hit the newswires while many Americans were still learning about the circumstances surrounding Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
But then Black employees started to speak out on their experience working at Glossier, and any sheen the company had about its support for progressive causes began to wear off.
An exclusive in Fortune detailed an incident earlier this year at its New York store, during which some teens used the company's products to paint on blackface. The story rapidly accelerated from an awkward moment to an episode that store management allegedly wanted swept under the rug, with Black employees saying their concerns were ignored. Shortly after Glossier announced company-wide layoffs of its retail workforce, at least 50 former employees ripped off the Band-Aid, describing offensive experiences they endured at work, pointing out management's alleged inaction, and calling on the company to take accountability.
For people of color, reading about what happened at Glossier wasn’t all that different from what has been the norm in offices across the U.S.: constant microagressions, comments about one’s skin color or appearance, making Black employees clearly feel as “others,” and allowing white customers to treat Black and Brown employees shabbily.
As complaints intensified last month, the company’s founder and CEO, Emily Weiss, quickly responded with what critics said were vague promises, such as “we need to create better feedback loops between our retail and corporate teams.” But a group of former Glossier employees, who named themselves “Outta The Gloss,” wasn’t having it.
The group of former employees criticized Weiss and Glossier for a lack of transparency, its alleged burying of recent layoff announcements and vague promises about internal changes within the company. Glossier has since publicly apologized and pledged bolder action, to which the group of employees essentially replied, "Show us the receipts."
The problems Glossier is now facing are fairly textbook. They include weak or ignored human resources policies, a work culture marred by a fear of speaking out, and white employees and managers dismissing any concerns shared by colleagues who happen to be people of color.
Highlighting the struggles Glossier is now facing is not about looking in the rearview mirror. For other companies, it’s not too late. There’s still time to update the human resources handbook, to enact policies that can prevent a toxic workplace, and retrain, inform and remind employees about how to treat all colleagues with dignity.
But before any company makes public promises, changes its logo, or writes a check to Black Lives Matter or any cause for that matter, real change has to happen within. Companies should check in with their Black colleagues, acknowledge their challenges, and fix what’s broken.
Glossier isn’t the first company to get it backwards and won’t be the last. But the $1.2 billion cosmetics upstart does offer a timely lesson about how to work toward racial equity — and why it’s important to address problems in the workplace internally before they are aired publicly.
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Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.