Essence Communications Names New Interim CEO Following Accusations of Toxic Work Culture

New Chief Growth Officer Caroline Wanga will serve as interim CEO, replacing owner Richelieu Dennis

Last Updated: July 2, 2020 @ 1:35 PM

Essence Communications on Tuesday named a new interim CEO of the 50-year-old magazine dedicated to celebrating Black women — two days after a Medium post by anonymous staffers calling themselves Black Female Anonymous accused top management of enabling a toxic work culture and demanded their removal.

Caroline Wanga, who joined the company on Monday as chief growth officer, will serve as interim CEO of Essence Communications — a position that had officially been vacant since the March resignation of longtime magazine leader Michelle Ebanks (who is still on the board of parent company Essence Ventures).

Dennis, a haircare mogul who bought Essence from Time Inc. in 2018 for an undisclosed amount, had been serving as interim leader of the magazine with direct oversight over its daily operations, in addition to his position as owner and chairman of Essence Ventures.

“Out of an abundance of caution and an unwavering commitment to transparency, Essence is in the process of hiring law firms and other independent external experts to assess and review the company’s policies,” Essence said in a statement posted on Twitter by commentator Roland Martin.

On Monday, Essence management had publicly denied the accusations in the Medium post. “The allegations and mischaracterizations throughout — whether of pay inequity, intimidation, and otherwise — are unfounded attempts to discredit our brand and assassinate personal character,” the statement said. “Further, accusations of sexual harassment or misconduct are extremely serious matters, and we fully understand the gravity of the implications. As such, these are also not claims to be recklessly and untruthfully thrown about — particularly when there have been no claims to respond to or any evidence of such defamatory accusations. In fact, there have been multiple comprehensive reviews of the HR function, and no evidence has been found to substantiate these anonymous claims. We have and will continue to review any legitimate claims of any nature that come to our attention.”

The Medium post accused Dennis of trying to force some Essence employees to sign nondisclosure agreements “that exclusively protects his family from liability or disparagement after a string of wrongful layoffs” and of intimidating those who raised questions or showed reluctance to sign. Dennis’ wife, Martha, is also accused of being “complicit in her husband’s abuse of power” as head of human resources.

The anonymous authors did not name of any of the employees subjected to acts of wrongdoing, nor did it offer much detail about specific accusations.

For the record: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Richelieu Dennis had the title of interim CEO of Essence Communications after Michelle Ebanks’ exit in March.

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