Sephora’s image was tarnished by its staff’s inability to help women of color. In recent reports, the company is now said to be working hard to rehabilitate that image and erase alleged racial bias.
The company’s plan was unveiled yesterday when management announced a crackdown on discrimination by its staff and promised to double the assortment of Black-owned brands by the end of the year. In addition, it promised to scale back third-party security forces.
Sephora is owned by LVMH and has been a leader in beauty internationally. However, while a few years back it was the beauty leader, both Ulta and Bath & Body Works today have a greater share of the beauty market. Sally Beauty and The Body Shop are 4th و 5th.
According to Bloomberg, as part of the company’s multi-pronged approach to re-engage customers, Sephora is updating its zero-tolerance policy to make sure staff who exhibit racially-biased behavior are investigated thoroughly. There will be annual performance metrics for corporate staff that are tied to diversity, and inclusion goals will add accountability.
I am surprised that the company’s (and LVMH’s) enlightened management waited until now to discover the lack of attention to women of color – any color. The narrative that Bloomberg recounts talks of black customers coming to Sephora stores and finding that associates were not able to match their foundation, did not know how to make “dark makeup”, and even admitted that they were not comfortable treating a black customer’s skin tones. When one hears these factual stories, one wonders where management was or what were they teaching their associates. In a related example, the musician SZA, who is black, was followed by security in a California store. That biased behavior triggered meetings and workshops across the company.
A woman – of any color – black – brown – yellow – green – should feel comfortable entering any beauty store and be served with knowledge and a smile. Racial bias is unacceptable, and a statement in Bloomberg’s story is irksome in today’s world. “Racial bias happens in all retail” said Deborah Yeh, Sephora’s chief marketing officer. The many allegations in the Bloomberg report are a throwback to yesteryear, not a look at the future. A comment like that by a senior executive will not help the company move forward nor regain the leadership position it seeks.
As of July 2020, 6.5%, of Sephora’s leadership in U.S stores, distribution centers, and corporate offices were black. In contrast, Ulta said in August that 13% of its executive staff was black.
In addition to heightened attention to how customers are treated, the company has revamped its program for support of minorities and signed the 15 percent pledge that calls on stores to increase the share of black-owned brands available for sale. Today, only eight of nearly 300 brands sold by Sephora are black-owned.
Sephora is transferring its shop-within-store concept from JCPenney to Kohl’s. It is a real coup for Kohl’s to acquire the assortment and the savvy of trained associates. 200 of the units will be opened by the end of this year, and the plan calls for about 850 shops to be opened by the end of 2023. I expect that these shops will be staffed with well trained associates and offer products that reflect the beauty needs of women of any color. Every Kohl’s customer deserves a satisfying shopping experience.
Black America has reason to be skeptical of many things. Be it their concern about the COVID vaccine, the ability to shop freely without being rebuffed or to enjoy a sporting event freely. It is the American way, a way that I hope Sephora’s action will now help change.