Essence Leaders Deny Accusations of Toxic Workplace Culture: ‘We Refute Them Without Reservation”

An anonymous group of current and former staffers accused the magazine’s leadership of “corporate bullying, intimidation, colorism, and classism”

Essence leadership on Monday refuted anonymous accusations that the magazine has a toxic work culture.

A statement provided to TheWrap and attributed to Essence Communications, Inc. read, “Candidly, the last 24 hours have been heartbreaking. At Essence, we uplift the voices of, provide platforms for, and generate opportunities that elevate Black women and communities and have done so for 50 years. It is the work we have committed ourselves to every single day since we were founded in 1970 and that has been accelerated over our past two years as a 100% Black family-owned company creating opportunities for Black creatives and leaders in an industry that has failed them.”

Last Sunday, a group of anonymous staffers and former staffers of Essence magazine accused the publication and its leadership of “corporate bullying, intimidation, colorism, and classism” against the Black women who make up 80% of the magazine’s workforce.

In a Medium post, the authors calling themselves Black Female Anonymous demanded the resignation of Essence Ventures CEO Richelieu Dennis, board member Michelle Ebanks, Chief Creative Officer Moana Luu and COO Joy Collins Profet for creating a toxic workplace culture that they said betrays its legacy of elevating Black women.

The corporate statement continued, “Still, anonymity does not negate accountability. Facts will always matter, and we are not afraid of the truth. The allegations and mischaracterizations throughout – whether of pay inequity, intimidation, and otherwise – are unfounded attempts to discredit our brand and assassinate personal character. 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 — which bought Essence from Time Inc. in 2018 — 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 do not name of any of the employees subjected to acts of wrongdoing, nor does it offer much detail about specific accusations.