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Racial Discrimination at Refinery29

  • 30 June, 2020

The digital media and entertainment organization known as Refinery29 has come under fire from past employees claiming Refinery29 perpetuated a workplace filled with racial and gender discrimination.

Following the mass protests in response to the killing of Black individuals by the police, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, many businesses are starting to be closely scrutinized for maintaining a racist culture at the workplace. Refinery29 is one of those businesses coming into close scrutiny over the treatment of their Black employees in recent days. Past employees claim that the solidarity Refinery29 demonstrated for the Black Lives Matter movement is in fact performative and does not reflect the blatant racism and micro-aggressions many Black employees experienced at Refinery29.

A common experience Black female employees have faced at Refinery29 is unequal pay, with one Black female employee claiming that despite doing the same job as her two white co-workers she is being paid $15,000 less. Similar stories surfaced as many female employees shared their struggles with unequal pay at Refinery29. One former designer claims that despite taking her complaints about unequal pay to Human Resources she was ignored despite discovering that her male co-worker with the same role had a higher rate of pay. It even took the threat of legal action by one another female employee for Refinery29 to raise her pay to be equal to that of her male co-workers that did similar work.

Ashley C. Ford, one of the first women to speak about the racial discrimination she faced at Refinery 29 comments that regarding pay, she felt her pay was being reduced merely for being a Black woman. Ford goes on to state that “When I talked to those women about how much money they were making and what their expectations were and what their relationship was like with their superiors, it became very clear to me that I was being treated differently and I didn’t want no part of that.”

Other past employees, including Ford, continued their criticisms about Refinery29 claiming that their racial discrimination was not only demonstrated through unequal pay but also through micro-aggressions. Micro-aggressions are subtle interactions that show a bias towards a group that is a minority or marginalized, these interactions can be intentional or unintentional.

At Refinery29, past employees claim that these micro-aggressions regularly manifested in higher executives, including the site’s co-founder and editor in chief Christene Barberich. For instance, employees claim that Barberich would constantly confuse one black employee for another, despite being corrected several times. Additionally, Barberich touched the hair of black employee Sesali Bowen, without Bowen’s permission, which was corroborated by workers who witnessed this uncomfortable action. Employees also claim that Barberich, as the editor in chief, would repeatedly reject pictures for the website that heavily featured Black individuals. Another black employee also claims that a high executive once mistook her for a caterer.

Refinery29 demonstrates that it is not enough for companies to post a black square in solidarity, instead Refinery29, like others, must see how they can implement measures to be anti-racist as a business. One way to see change in a company is the inclusion of Black individuals in high positions. Therefore, critics looked at the demographics at Refinery29 and unsurprisingly saw that there was only a small handful of black individuals in senior positions and none in executive positions.

Since Black employees at Refinery29 have spoken out about their experiences, Christene Barberich has since apologized and has decided to step down from her role as editor in chief. In support of the decision to have Barberich step down, the Refinery29 Union has issued out a statement saying, “we’re working with management to also address the systemic issues that hinder and hurt our past and present employees.”

Source: CNN, nytimes

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