Reformation and Refinery29 respond to accusations of racism
Jun 9, 2020
With what has been called the "new civil rights movement" sweeping the United States, Black employees, and other employees of color, are coming to the forefront to call out employers for allowing racist work environments to thrive.
The it-girl favorite, which has previously been accused of propagating fat-phobia, has now had a former employee say that the company enabled a wide culture of racism.
In an Instagram post, former employee Elle Santiago, who is Black, claimed that she was repeatedly refused a promotion, and that the company continues to refuse to promote people of color (POC) workers, who are taking on responsibilities equivalent to higher roles in the company, among other disputes.
"To this day you have POC workers working important titles you refuse to let them actually have," Santiago wrote.
Santiago also specifically called out Reformation founder, Yael Aflalo.
"When I first met Yael I was so excited to introduce myself as her flagship's assistant manager. She looked me up and down in disgust and walked away."
"Her mentality is why the leadership table at Ref [Reformation] has always looked like it has and has always treated black and non-black POC the way it has."
Santiago said that, upon quitting in December 2016 and detailing her experience to "a head at [Reformation] HQ," nothing was done in response to her experience.
After Santiago's experience was shared by fashion industry watch dog Diet Prada, Aflalo shared a public apology via the Reformation Instagram.
"I've failed," the statement began. "Part of sustainability is treating people equally. I realize that I have failed all of you in that regard - especially the Black community."
"Unfortunately, the way we have practiced diversity in the past has been through a 'White gaze' that falls too close to ignorance...I am so angry at myself for not seeing it sooner."
Aflalo further said she was "not a very good leader" and that her actions were “not about the color of your skin,” but a result of her “shortcomings as a person.”
Aflalo said that the company is launching an independent investigation to look into workplace concerns. In addition, the company will launch a 'Diversity and Inclusion Board', in an effort to improve its company culture.
Aflalo also said that she will be making a donation of $500,000 between the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational fund, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and the National Black Child Development Institute.
On Monday, Refinery29 co-founder and editor-in-chief Christene Barberich announced her exit from the company, as claims of a toxic company culture mounted.
In a Twitter thread, the company was called out for not paying black employees fairly, lacking Black women in top leadership roles and neglecting to address the micro-agressions directed at Black employees from management.
In the thread, multiple former Refinery29 journalists shared their negative experiences, including Andrea González-Ramírez, who said that she was paid $15,000 less than two white employees with the same job.
González-Ramírez also said that other women of color at the company experienced being tone-policed, seeing others take credit for their work, being confused with another woman of color working for the company, and being underpaid, among other issues.
In her resignation announcement, Barberich said she has read and taken in the raw and personal accounts of Black women and women of color regarding their experiences inside our company at Refinery29.
"I will be stepping aside in my role at R29 [Refinery29] to help diversify our leadership in editorial and ensure this brand and the people it touches can spark a new defining chapter."
Refinery29 also released a statement on the company Instagram.
"We are, and always have been, a company and a brand that seeks to hold ourselves accountable as we elevate underrepresented voices," the company said via Instagram.
"We are all ready to do the work in order to build new pathways for change."
In the comments, this statement was widely panned.
"What is this 'statement?'" said Phoebe Robinson, comedian and co-creator of 2 Dope Queens. "Just stale 'word salad.' So glad I stopped doing stuff with y'all years ago."
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