It’s been more than two weeks since worldwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality began in response to the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. On social media, people and brands alike have come out in droves to speak out against racial injustice and show solidarity with the Black community. Now what?
Sharon Chuter, founder, CEO and creative director of Uoma Beauty, noticed that many brands shared messages of support by posting black squares as part of #BlackOutTuesday and making one-time donations — without actually taking time to reflect on how they directly contribute to racial injustice and fail to enact real change.
She called on these companies to “pull up” by sharing the number of Black people they employ on a corporate level. The movement, aptly called Pull Up For Change, gained steam quickly and has 92,000 followers on Instagram so far, thanks in part to its support from beauty influencers. As Chuter told HuffPost on the phone Monday, taking brands to task was the only way to move the conversation forward.
“Guess how many companies have now over the last few days formed diversity teams that didn’t have one?” Chuter said. “How many of them are on the phone with me? Even if it’s only half of the companies that actually take real action, it’s still better than if we had said nothing and just allowed everyone to post black squares and move on.”
Pull Up For Change gave brands 72 hours after posting a message of support to release the number of Black employees on staff, and then asked customers to refrain from shopping with any brand once those 72 hours were up until they disclosed those numbers. Since the movement’s launch last week, both massive and small brands have risen to the challenge, including Estée Lauder, Revlon, Glossier, Ulta and L’Oréal, to name a few.
“I just this morning spoke with an executive from one of the big conglomerates,” Chuter said. “We had an hour-long conversation and she was almost in tears in the end. She was like, ‘Sharon, I’ve never seen things this way, why have we never thought about it?’”
“I’m like, ‘Nobody wants to have this conversation because it’s awkward and it’s uncomfortable. [You haven’t thought it] because you have a whole board of white people and the only Black person you’ve ever had on that board is too afraid to say anything because they want to protect their job,” she continued. “They’ll never tell you this. But I’ll tell you. I don’t work for you.’”
The goal of Pull Up For Change is to encourage brands to have at least 10% Black corporate employment ― equal to the percentage of Black college degree holders, according to a 2019 study by the Center for Talent Innovation titled “Being Black in Corporate America.”
“I don’t think it’s fair to just use the Black population in America as a benchmark because we’re talking about corporate roles, which I would assume you need some sort of degree to get,” Chuter said. “Right now, college participation is at 10% and employment in corporate roles is at 8%. Look at the gap we have. People have college loans and have not been employed ― isn’t that crazy? You see companies pulling up at 7 or 8%. We have to have a minimum of 10. Some companies are like, ‘We have 5%’ and then it’s one person.”
Chuter, who prior to founding Uoma Beauty worked for brands like Revlon, PepsiCo and Benefit Cosmetics, echoed her own experience in the corporate world.
“My entire corporate career, I was always the only Black person at the organization,” she said. “There was never a meeting I went to even globally where there was another Black person in the room. Never. These are the things that really need to change.”
While not all brands who disclosed their numbers of Black employees shared long-term plans for becoming more inclusive, many companies said they are forming diversity and inclusion groups, working with agencies to recruit more Black talent and elevating more Black voices in advertising and on their social media channels. As for Pull Up For Change, Chuter said she hopes to create a plug-in that shoppers can install to see how many Black people the brand they’re shopping with employs.
“The more we use it as a shopping guide, the more brands will respond because it starts affecting sales,” she said. “I also urge every Black celebrity not to take a deal with any company until they give you that number, because they keep using your face, your image to exploit the Black community. We all need to be part of the solution.”
The responses to Pull Up For Change alone is proof that this reckoning is necessary far and wide, beyond the beauty industry. Chuter credits part of the movement’s success to beauty influencers like Jackie Aina, who shared the message with her more than 1 million followers. She encouraged influencers in other industries to do the same.
“We have to take it into fashion, into tech, into all industries,” Chuter said. “If all corporations come together and collectively say, ‘We’re going to do better,’ that’s huge. I urge influencers to come out, speak up and tell them to pull up ― because when your followers have awareness, it really makes a difference. It’s not just a social media thing. In four days, this has had more impact on beauty corporations behind the scenes than anything we’ve talked about in the past decade.”
A movement like this is long overdue, but Chuter said the anti-racism protests that have taken place over the past few weeks have increased the sense of urgency.
“Not since Martin Luther King’s March on Washington have we seen the world hand in hand like this to fight against racism,” Chuter said. “Brands were coming out and showing solidarity, but this is a time we all need to reflect on how we contributed. And I felt like they were not doing that.”
Overhauling the systems currently in place will involve a lot of work and extend far beyond employment.
“We have historically Black colleges and universities in America. How many companies have an official internship program with them? Not many. How are you fostering the talent even before leaving university?” Chuter said. “So there’s huge, huge work that needs to be done. But the first step is transparency.”
Chuter said that she is “energized” by the number of Black professionals who have reached out to share their optimism, and that she’s proud of the role Pull Up For Change is playing in the movement toward racial equity, all the while continuing to run her own business.
“I haven’t slept in days,” Chuter said. “I haven’t been able to manage my business. But when I get this feedback, it’s all worth it. I may have lost in my business, but I’m making a difference in the lives of the masses. That is what I set out to do.”
Head to Pull Up For Change to learn more.