How Beauty Companies Can Embrace Antiracism

Although there are still dozens of Black Lives Matter protests taking place, the exhilarating surge of millions of people marching against racism and police brutality globally has, as expected, wound down.

Now, for those sincere about change and moving forward toward a more racially equitable world, other work begins.

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist; we must be antiracist.”
-Angela Davis, vegan, antiracist activist

The beauty industry has the opportunity to stand on the frontlines of taking concrete action that moves beyond amorphous discussions about diversity, or half-hearted efforts at inclusion.

Right now, the beauty industry can embrace antiracism by establishing concrete goals and objectives that reflect core values that are explicitly inclusive of antiracist ideology.

If beauty companies include antiracism in their mission and aggressively adopt actions consistent with that mission, those are strong first steps.

Why would expanding a beauty company’s mission statement to include antiracism be the first step?

Because racism is so difficult to talk about honestly in American society, it is impossible to talk about race effectively in a corporate environment.

Despite well-intentioned efforts of bringing in a “diversity trainer” for a day or launching a one-off ad campaign featuring phenotypical Black models, down and dirty self-reflection about racial bias can get messy.

And messy is avoided in corporate environments.

Typically, broad “diversity and inclusion” efforts are an attempt to apply a band-aid to a company’s fractured DNA. Frequently, there’s a problem in the foundation. And if you understand that our society has, for hundreds of years, centered European standards of beauty, then of course the beauty industry was built to serve and reinforce that standard.

If antiracism is included in a beauty company’s mission statement, then the head of Human Resources has a mandate to hold executives and the board accountable. Further, if antiracism is in the mission—a stated core value—there is more likelihood that a budget is attached to pursue antiracist initiatives.

In this instance, antiracist action becomes commonplace and expected, rather than a vague concept brought up every once in a while during brief and awkward business planning sessions.

Adding antiracism to the mission of a beauty company shows that they have a North Star regarding racial equality guiding or, at least, informing decisions at all levels of the corporation. That’s where the most powerful and brilliant initiatives, campaigns, corporate communication, and editorial footprint can distinguish themselves.

Once a beauty company accepts the call to incorporate antiracism into its core values and mission, here are the next concrete actions they can take to walk the walk:

1. Recruit from diverse pools of talent for jobs at all levels. Too often, coveted jobs in the beauty industry are filled via word of mouth, and those networks are closed and difficult to gain access to.

    • Find recruiters who specialize in placing Black executives and other executives of color.
    • Recruit from chemistry and biology majors graduating from HBCUs.
    • Recruit from business and accounting majors graduating from HBCUs.
    • Develop a rapport with Black beauty bloggers and ask them, “Who do you know?” when looking to fill a vacancy or staff a new effort.
    • Have your company sponsor events and contests to find Black professionals, such as make-up artists, set designers, wardrobe, and costume professionals who might not have equal access to closed networks.

    2. Use models in your campaigns and images that represent the widest range of Black beauty and Black features: keen and broad features; short Afros to long, straight hair; thin bodies, full-bellied bodies, and thick bodies.

    3. Make sure all of your suppliers understand your anti-racist values. Put in place a system to periodically evaluate each supplier’s practices to make sure they align with your own.

    4. Have a comprehensive look at who shoots your campaigns. Note how many of your photographers, directors, and art directors are Black.

    5. Find out if your chosen photographers and directors employ set designers, wardrobe professionals, and make-up artists who are Black. Once again, these are often closed networks.

    6. Determine how many Black professionals are working on your social media presence, public relations campaigns, and marketing literature. Is the voice of your company strongly inclusive. 

    7. Seek outside help, and listen. This may be the most difficult step. If these changes feel awkward to you, seek guidance from a facilitator you trust. There are various kinds of coaching available. No matter how comprehensive the proposal, it will only work if you embrace the path that you and your advisor decide to pursue together.

    Carmen Dixon is an antiracist vegan, writer, and entrepreneur, who believes we are here to help each other.

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