Nationwide protests calling for racial justice during the summer of 2020 prompted a lot of American companies to rethink their policies around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Sephora, the prestige beauty company, had been thinking about these issues for a long time—and they’d already begun to address them.
Early in 2019, Sephora debuted its “We Belong to Something Beautiful” campaign, articulating its long-term commitment to making the beauty space more diverse and inclusive. Later that year, Sephora commissioned a pioneering study on racial bias in retail.
The study aimed to determine how common racially biased and unfair treatment occurs in retail spaces, and to expose differences in experiences across racial groups. Its results shined a light on the pervasiveness of racial bias for retail customers, with two out of five BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) shoppers saying they have experienced poor treatment due to race or ethnicity, among other findings.
“Ultimately our goal was not only to measure the problem but also identify actions that can mitigate bias from the shopper experience and create an environment that truly serves all,” says Deborah Yeh, Sephora’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. Sephora’s initiative in this crucial area is a major reason for its inclusion in Fast Company’s list of Most Innovative Companies.
COMMITTING TO THE PLEDGE
Last year, Sephora became the first major retailer to commit to the 15 Percent Pledge, a call for retailers to dedicate 15 Percent of their product assortment to Black-owned businesses. But the company’s commitment to expanding awareness of Black-owned brands doesn’t stop with the pledge alone. “We are looking at the full cycle, including how we scout brands and how we leverage our new internal task force dedicated to brand diversity,” says Artemis Patrick, Sephora’s executive vice president and global chief merchandising officer.
Part of these expanded efforts involves the evolution of its Accelerate program, which was originally developed to cultivate female-owned brands. Now, the program focuses on BIPOC-owned brands and offers mentorship, merchandising support, funding, and investor connections. “Our goal is to provide these companies with the community and ecosystem to support their launch at Sephora,” Patrick says.
COMBATTING BIAS AT HOME
To address racial bias within its own workforce, Sephora has broadened its recruitment and career-advancement processes for people of color. This effort includes expanding talent sourcing, sharing toolkits for hiring managers, and building emerging talent platforms to ensure the advancement of BIPOC employees.
The company also is increasing the frequency and depth of its employee trainings, adding new modules that offer strategies to identify bias, and exhibiting inclusive behaviors in the workplace. In addition, it is introducing an inclusivity-based metric to its performance reviews, tying its DEI goals to employees’ bonus objectives.
“Beauty retail involves an extremely interactive and human shopping experience,” Yeh says. “This means it’s especially important for clients to feel seen and served through associates who understand them and a product assortment that meets their needs.”
But while the racial bias in retail study has helped Sephora clarify its strategies, the company isn’t keeping the study’s findings a secret. It published the results in an eBook and is having one-on-one conversations with other retailers committed to driving change. “We hope this study serves as a catalyst for other retailers to take action,” Yeh says.