Essence Magazine Staffers Demand Resignation of Leadership Amid Accusations of Toxic Workplace Culture

“White women can openly take down their devil in Prada but Black women must protect her,” staffers say in Medium post

A group of anonymous staffers and former staffers of Essence magazine on Sunday 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 staffers also called on major brands like AT&T, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and others to withhold future sponsorships and advertising buys until Essence Ventures finds new leadership. The post has been shared on social media with some former employees confirming reports of a harmful work environment at the 50-year-old magazine.

Reps for Essence, which Dennis bought from Time Inc. in 2018 for an undisclosed amount, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Dennis founded the beauty-product firm Sundial Brands, which he sold to Unilever in 2017.

The Medium post accuses 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 do not name of any of the employees subjected to acts of wrongdoing, nor does it offer much detail about specific accusations.

The post accuses Ebanks, who in March stepped down as CEO while joining the board of Essence Ventures, of abusive office behavior that caused “intense anxiety, depression, evidenced by signs of extreme weight gain or loss, workforce isolation or surrendered resignations.”

The anonymous staffers also lamented the hiring last year of former Condé Nast VP Kristen Elliot, who is white, as the company’s SVP of revenue — as well as Elliot’s choice of an unnamed white woman as “sales leader under her leadership despite the volume of experienced Black female sales leaders who expressed interest in the role or the internal sales staff who could have used the promotion.”

“When Black media companies become unstable, it triggers the instability of the entire culture,” Black Female Anonymous writes. “White women can openly take down their devil in Prada but Black women must protect her. The demand for a new America calls for the complete accountability of all Americans, even those of us in Black America and our cultural institutions. Black women deserve to feel safe both in white America and Black America.

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