Sharon Chuter, Ella Gorgla Get Clear About Brand Activism

What does inclusivity mean in the age of brand activism?

If you ask Sharon Chuter, founder and chief executive officer of Uoma Beauty and Pull Up for Change, and Ella Gorgla, cofounder of 25 Black Women in Beauty, the answer starts internally, at brands’ highest ranks, and involves both accountability and commitment.

Chuter and Gorgla, who spoke with WWD’s Jenny B. Fine, are clear on what is required to create meaningful change.

“It starts from the top,” said Chuter, who was an active participant in this summer’s Los Angeles protests. “People at the top are the decision-makers. They drive the culture, the values of that business. When the people who are running these companies don’t relate to these issues, it makes it hard to implement any real change because [they are] one step removed.”

Accountability, Gorgla said, is necessary for change to happen — and it’s integral to the healing process employees may undergo when dealing with workplace trauma.

“If you’re in an environment where things can happen and people are left unaccountable, then you’re stuck,” she said. “That’s difficult to change. People’s voices need to be heard, and they need to be supported.

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“Black women have been traumatized in the workplace,” she continued. “Too often, we ignore microaggression and don’t realize the weight of it. But it does carry a heavy, heavy weight.”

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Short-term accountability is not enough for long-term change.

A recent report from AI-powered consultancy Eyecue found that of more than 150,000 beauty Instagram posts, only 13 percent of portrait images featured dark skin tones. That number increased sharply by 122 percent following the police killing of George Floyd in May. But the spike was performative: The majority of beauty brands have since reverted back to posting lighter skin tones, which account for 48 percent of beauty social media posts.

Combatting systemic racism involves genuine commitment — not performance, said Chuter, who began consulting for companies when her Pull Up for Change campaign went viral.

“I always say to companies, ‘You have to look internal first,’” Chuter said. “You have to look at your culture. What kind of company do you have? Is it conducive to Black people? After looking at a lot of h.r. policies, I’m mortified. A lot of these policies have not been reviewed in 30 years. America was a different country 30 years ago.”

Following Floyd’s killing, some companies were quick to instate internal diversity, equity and inclusion roles as a measure for enacting tangible change. These roles, Gorgla said, are “on trend,” but consumers, employees and employers should look beyond a DE&I title to assess the depth of a company’s commitment.

“The role of diversity, equity and inclusion has to be reimagined,” Gorgla said. “It can’t be limited to just h.r. It has to be woven into the fabric of the organization, i.e. marketing, creative, external-facing moments and behind the scenes.

“The other piece of it is zero tolerance for hate, for constant microaggression,” she continued. “I believe in the power of allyship because that’s where you can create meaningful, peer-to-peer, human connection and connections with senior leaders, as well. Authentic commitment needs to happen.”

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