These Women Are Holding Beauty Brands That Posted Black Squares Accountable

Dominique Fluker
·7 min read

Four months ago, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, our feeds went dark as friends, colleagues, and the brands we followed posted Black squares to their Instagrams. #BlackOutTuesday was supposed to be a sign of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and for brands, a signal that they're willing to take a stand for their Black employees and shoppers. Instead the initiative effectively became copy-paste “activism.” Many called it out for being inauthentic and performative, while others demanded brands share what the racial breakdowns of their organizations looked like internally. 

It was a long overdue boiling point, leaving Black shoppers and employees alike to wonder—once again—whether diversity, equity, and inclusion in the fashion and beauty industries would really change or whether this was just more lip service. 

Now, as the antiracism graphics have waned and our feeds have largely gone back to “normal,” the question still stands. Black women want to know that our favorite beauty brands support us by having adequate and intentional diverse representation across their organizations and within their products. For many of us, it's no longer enough to see 40 shades of foundation on a shelf. That should be a given. We want to see substantial and quantitative change across the board, especially in the boardroom. We want to know our money is going toward the paychecks of deserving Black women in the labs, on photo shoots, and behind the scenes at every level. 

And so does 25BWB

The organization, which stands for 25 Black Women in Beauty, was founded on June 19, 2019 (Juneteenth) by beauty industry veterans Ella T. Gorgla and Cara Saban, who together have a combined 45 years of experience working for billion-dollar brands. Their résumés include names like MAC, Estée Lauder, Shea Moisture, Nars, and L'Oréal Paris. The other women in the collective as just as impressive—Sharon Chuter (CEO of Uoma Beauty), Stephanie Davis Michelman (V.P. and general manager at Bobbi Brown), and Angela Simpson (executive director of marketing at Nars) all count themselves as members. 

Their mission is to celebrate, elevate, and inspire Black women in beauty through mentorship and networking—but not in the old-school sense where you go to a party and leave with a handful of business cards that lead nowhere. Instead, the organization is partnering with notable brands like Chanel and Sephora to help place Black women in leadership roles within the beauty industry.

Originally known for its (pre-COVID) private intimate dinners featuring influential Black women entrepreneurs, executives, editors, and influencers in the beauty space, the collective has now scaled to developing a strong platform centered on the conversation around diversity and inclusion. The organization offers to companies its comprehensive “Résumé Book,” which features top applicants, and it partners with companies to perform executive search and board placement. In addition to helping more Black women secure corporate leadership roles, 25BWB also aims to increase funding for Black women entrepreneurs, as well as place more Black-owned beauty brands at top retailers.

In other words, the past few months for 25BWB have been optimistically busy, and Gorgla remains hopeful more change within the industry is on the horizon. Below, she answers the question Black shoppers have had on their minds since June—“Is change for real this time?”—and what we all can do to demand that it happens. 

Glamour: 25BWB is all about advancing Black women in beauty. What programs are you currently offering to make that happen?

Ella T. Gorgla: Our goal is to get more Black women in executive director, director, V.P. roles, and above. We created a talent book that has the résumés of over 100 top-caliber Black women in it from the beauty industry. So far, we’ve offered this to around 30 brands. Everyone from big retailers like Sephora and Ulta to smaller brands like Living Proof and Versed. It's been really phenomenal, and they've tapped into it. We've shared stories of folks who have been hired from the book. That has actually been very instrumental. We also partner with companies to share their career openings.

25BWB is still in its infancy, but so much has happened in the past year. What changes have you seen within the beauty industry since you cofounded the organization?

What I’ve seen change in the beauty industry is that people are nervous. There's been a reckoning, and consumers are becoming even more conscious. They want to know: Who's working behind the scenes? Who's leading the organization? And why don't you have any Black vice presidents in your organization? Shoppers—and particularly Black women—are asking those hard questions. So we're seeing a complete consciousness, if you will, within beauty, and some brands are really stepping up to the task.

Has there been any tangible change in the beauty industry since the infamous black squares in June?

I would say that several brands, including brands that we personally partner with, have clearly committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion with creating diversity and inclusion roles. You see those roles everywhere, and folks who do that work, they are in high demand. The very nature of the role itself is evolving. Where it was largely an H.R.-oriented role that held very little power in the past and had a minimal team, now the role is actually integrated [with multiple teams]—even marketing. They're looking at things like: How can we do more inclusive marketing? And how can we leverage the diverse talent within our organization to help us in that inclusive marketing? Or help us in product development and testing?

One of our partners, who is very committed to this, is Tarte Cosmetics. We're partnering with them to do an internal event around allyship. Shoppers are now looking for brands that understand that conscious design has to happen from the very beginning—not just when you do your marketing launch strategy. It has to happen from the design phase, product development, all the way through to product launch.

I still do have concern, though, that some of those black squares were very performative, with no clear commitment to changing behavior. The beauty industry is a monster, a $600 billion–plus industry. It's steeped in a European view of what beauty is still. It's going to take a long time to shift that view. But I think what helps to shift it is that as consumers, as Black consumers, we need to understand the power of our dollar, and we need to understand the power of our influence. As long as we continue to leverage that power, we can continue to encourage that change.

How is 25BWB holding brands accountable?

One thing any brand that partners with us knows is that we're always sincere. You engage us for a candid conversation. We can exact change, and we can present ideas that will help advance our goals around more diversity in the workplace and more diversity in consumer-facing elements.

What more can we expect from 25BWB in the future?

The next area is funding. We also want to be able to invest in Black-owned brands. Part of our mission is to create a fund that we can tap into, because we see brands very early on before anyone else. The other thing that we're working on is also getting into the product space ourselves. We want to leverage all of our relationships and resources to create an innovation hub within 25BWB that would allow us to get into the beauty game ourselves, so there are more inclusive options for skin care, hair care, and more.

Dominique Fluker is a writer based in California's Bay Area. You can find her work in ForbesWomen and Essence, among other publications.

Originally Appeared on Glamour