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Christine Barberich Steps Down as Refinery29 Editor-in-Chief to ‘Help Diversify’ Leadership

Black former employees spoke out about the company’s lack of diversity last week

Christine Barberich, global editor-in-chief and co-founder of Refinery29, announced Monday she is stepping down from her role to “help diversify” the company’s leadership.

She wrote on Instagram, “I’d like to start by saying that I’ve read and taken in the raw and personal accounts of Black women and women of color regarding their experiences inside our company at Refinery29. And, what’s clear from these experiences, is that R29 has to change. We have to do better, and that starts with making room. And, so I will be stepping aside in my role at R29 to help diversify our leadership in editorial and ensure this brand and the people it touches can spark a new defining chapter.”

Last week, black former employees of the company spoke out about its lack of diversity with support from the R29 Union.

Hey @Refinery29, cool blacked out homepage! But you know what real allyship looks like? Paying your Black employees fairly, having Black women in top leadership positions & addressing the microagressions your Black employees deal with from management on a daily basis,” wrote Ashley Alese Edwards, a former employee, in reaction to the site’s display of support for protests against police brutality and systemic racism. 

Numerous black writers spoke up about their time at the company, saying it was designed to promote white feminism and accusing management of asking them to do things like appear on Fox News programming or write an apologetic post to white women.

Ashley C. Ford wrote, “I worked at Refinery29 for less than nine months due to a toxic company culture where white women’s egos ruled the near non-existent editorial processes. One of the founders consistently confused myself and one of our full-time front desk associates & pay disparity was atrocious.”

On Thursday, company leadership issued a statement saying R29 wanted to “recognize and acknowledge the conversations raised” by the former employees and hold itself accountable. Leadership vowed to “take time, effort and sustained commitment” to change, calling the statement “step one.”

The R29 Union responded in a series of tweets Friday, “Many women of color have come forward to thoughtfully share their experiences of racist aggressions at @Refinery29. Their honesty deserves honesty in return. We believe the statement the company released does nothing to get to the heart of the problem, which is that this emergency has been a long time coming, and needs to be addressed with drastic and immediate action.”

“We will begin the search for the next Global Editor-In-Chief of R29 immediately. It’s time for a new generation of leadership that’s truly reflective of the diversity of our audience with divergent points of view, one that builds and expands on our original mission to amplify and celebrate a wide range of voices, perspectives, and stories…stories that need and deserve to be told,” Barberich said Monday.

In an email to Vice and Refinery29 staff obtained by TheWrap, Vice Media CEO Nancy Dubuc addressed the forthcoming changes at the company, which was acquired by Vice last year: “While we believe on the whole that Vice is ahead of most media organizations in our commitment to equality – for example, our non-white employee base now represents more than 40% of our population (nearly twice that of most media companies) – as I mentioned in my note to you Friday, there is more work to be done. For one, the recent public call-outs of negative experiences at Refinery29 by women of color and particularly Black women in social media need to be, and will be, addressed through systemic focus on our people practices throughout our entire business moving forward.”