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How this startup founder ignited a movement to get brands to hire more Black people

Sharon Chuter, founder and CEO of Uoma Beauty, wants companies to pull up or shut up when it comes to supporting Black people.

How this startup founder ignited a movement to get brands to hire more Black people
Sharon Chuter, founder and CEO of UOMA Beauty. [Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for Teen Vogue]

On June 3, Sharon Chuter had had enough with corporate America.

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First, there had been the soft and hypocritical statements by brands with mediocre to dreadful posts supporting Black people as the anti-racism protests provoked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis had spread nationwide.

Then, after a sincere effort by Black people in the music industry to protest the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor on Tuesday, June 2, the meaning of #BlackOutTuesday fell on deaf ears, resulting in a very confusing and counterproductive day. Brands and companies used #BlackLivesMatter for publicity, and as a result blacked out worthwhile information, such as protest updates and Black voices, throughout all social media platforms. Needless to say, many users pushed back against the corporate, um, whitewashing of the movement.

Chuter, founder and CEO of the startup Uoma Beauty, took to Instagram to share her frustrations on how corporations are using this moment for personal gain.

“To be at this point, to still be absolving yourself of the role that you have played and continue to play in the marginalization and oppression of Black people shows that a lot of these efforts may just be PR stunts,” Chuter said in an Instagram video. 

As a call to action, she added the hashtag #pulluporshutup and started a new account @pullupforchange.

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When Chuter started this challenge, she wasn’t thinking about how many brands would respond to her or how big it would get. She shared the anger of many users who were tired of brands issuing cookie-cutter statements about equality when they don’t actively participate in it themselves.

“To be honest I wasn’t thinking,” she says. “At the time I was doing this, I just wanted to do something. I was frustrated, I was angry, I was emotional.”

Using the hashtag, Chuter is challenging brands that have released statements standing with protesters to disclose publicly the number of Black people they employ in office and executive roles. She is also asking users to stop buying from brands that aren’t answering the call, saying that if companies really believed that Black lives mattered, it would reflect in their employment. 

#PullUpOrShutUp catalyzed a collective exasperation that Chuter gave voice to that companies are not doing the single-most-important thing they could be doing to help. According to Chuter, only 8% of Black people are employed in corporate positions even though Black adults account for 13% of the U.S population. Going further, Black people fill just 3.2% of company managerial roles.

“If every single employer, especially the large employers, in America pledged to make a conscious effort for Black employment [and] working on corporate culture to remove microaggressions within those organizations, we will make a huge leap and probably the biggest economic moves for the Black community in centuries,” Chuter says.

A Problem That Affects Everyone 

Chuter is no stranger to the struggles that Black people, specifically Black women, face in corporate America.

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She worked for brands like L’Oréal and Benefit Cosmetics before launching her own beauty brand, Uoma Beauty, in 2019. She got used to being the only Black woman in the room, which took an immense toll on her.

“I know the impact it had on me. I know the pressure that you feel every time. I know the microaggressions I faced in the workplace. That’s why I left to go fund my own brand, because I was done. I had a nervous tick when I left corporate because it was so toxic, the culture,” Chuter says. 

She founded Uoma with a focus on inclusivity, and wanted to create a space where she had a voice in the beauty industry. But she recognizes that not every person, specifically if you’re Black, has that opportunity. Chuter had invested three-quarters of a million dollars into her business and partnered with Ulta to sell her products. She notes that only 2% of funding goes to Black businesses and 0.06% to Black women-owned businesses. 

A Movement That Continues To Grow

Some brands were quick to answer Chuter’s call. E.l.f Cosmetics posted its statistics with the hashtag a day after Chuter’s initial Instagram video. After only two weeks, more than 50 brands, including Sephora and Kylie Cosmetics, have responded to Chuter’s initial 72-hour accountability check.

The campaign account, @pullupforchange, has already gained 113,000 followers. This number continues to grow as more and more people tag brands into Chuter’s movement, who only has 19,000 followers on her personal Instagram page. 

Chuter’s connections and experience in the beauty industry led to many beauty brands answering with stats of their own. Top makeup companies, such as L’Oréal and Estée Lauder, both revealed percentages of Black workers overall as well as Black executives. Estée Lauder said 14% of the company’s executive directors are Black, but did not break down those numbers between the multiple brands it owns. L’Oréal revealed that between the 35 brands it sells in the United States, only 8% of its executive leadership team is Black. Brands that admitted to having no Black employees at all, such as BH Cosmetics, vowed to do better in the future.

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“We acknowledge these numbers,” BH Cosmetics wrote in an Instagram post. “We recognize that our current lack of Black employees is not adequate and that it needs to change. And we commit to this change, now.”  

Chuter says that this campaign is about transparency and solutions. She doesn’t want brands to get canceled for not having the right numbers. She wants them to learn and find solutions to get more Black people jobs. 

Bigger Than Beauty

Although the early embrace of #PullUpOrShutUp has been in Chuter’s industry, she always framed her call to all of corporate America.

Chuter says that many brands, such as Nike, advertise heavily to the Black community by putting popular Black influencers, like Serena Williams and LeBron James, as the face of their brand, but aren’t transparent enough to show how many actual Black people they employ throughout their company.  

“Who do you think is buying those collabs? It’s the same boys in the hood, who got no job,” Chuter says. “They’ve got no jobs and that’s why this thing hurts me because I’m like, the people you’re exploiting are people who’ve got nothing. And they’re giving it to you, and you’re not giving it back to them. You owe them. Guys are getting shot and they’ve got Adidas and Nike on their feet.” (On June 9, Adidas promised that 30% of new jobs in the United States would go to Black and Latinx people, and it pledged to invest $20 million in Black communities. A few days earlier, Nike committed to spending $40 million in the next four years with organizations focused on addressing racial inequality but did not make a jobs pledge.)

But Chuter’s goal isn’t to name and shame but to continue her efforts of holding brands accountable by helping them grow.

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“I’ve been on the phone all week with many, many brands, many, many founders, just giving them my thoughts, my ideas, my experience, and sharing my story from when I was in corporate. Things that could have made it better and things that I think are necessary solutions. So you know in the background we’re working, we’re actually working on solutions,” says Chuter.

One of the solutions being, not stopping. Chuter plans to continue speaking with brands, including her competitors, about hiring more Black people within their companies and into leadership roles. She also set a six-month benchmark to check on each company’s progress. 

For maybe the first time ever, companies can’t get out of this with unoriginal PR statements or empty promises of change. Either they pull up for change—or get left in the dust.

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