As corporations scrambled last June to make statements of accountability in support of racial justice, Sephora immediately responded with substantive action, becoming the first major retailer to sign Aurora James’ 15 Percent Pledge, a commitment to allocate at least 15 percent of its product offerings to Black vendors. The following month on #BlackoutDay2020, it released the results of its yearlong Racial Bias Study, “a first-of-its-kind in size and scope national study on racial bias in retail.” By the end of the year, the prestige omni-retailer’s inclusion efforts advanced further, as the company announced plans to focus its 2021 Accelerate development incubator exclusively on BIPOC-owned and founded businesses.
This week, Sephora unveiled yet another effort to improve the experience of shoppers who’ve experienced racially profiling in the prestige beauty retailer’s polished aisles, a number which includes former employee SZA, who infamously called out the chain’s Calabasas, Calif., location after an in-store incident in 2019. As a followup to the first phase of its Racial Bias Study, on Tuesday, Sephora shared the action plan it developed in response to the study’s findings, presented as five “truths” and recapped by BusinessWire:
TRUTH #1: Limited diversity across marketing, merchandise and retail employees results in exclusionary treatment before shoppers even enter a store, and continues across their in-store journey.
TRUTH # 2: U.S. BIPOC shoppers feel in-store interactions are driven by their skin color, appearance and ethnicity, yet retail employees cite behavioral attributes, rather than appearance, as the basis for their interactions.
TRUTH #3: U.S. BIPOC retail shoppers use coping mechanisms, such as shopping online, to minimize or avoid an anticipated biased experience when in-store. While many customer experience needs are universal, BIPOC shoppers have some needs that hold greater importance in helping them feel welcome.
TRUTH #4: The majority of retail shoppers do not voice concerns about negative experiences directly to retailers—creating missed opportunities for feedback and improvement, and impacting future sales as shoppers take their business elsewhere.
TRUTH #5: Meaningful and long-term action is most important to U.S. retail shoppers and employees.
“At Sephora, diversity, equality, and inclusion have been our core values since we launched a new kind of beauty retail destination in the U.S. over 20 years ago,” said Jean-André Rougeot, President and CEO, Sephora Americas. “[B]ut the reality is that shoppers at Sephora, and in U.S. retail more broadly, are not always treated fairly and consistently.
Based on its findings in tandem with what has been branded as an “all-encompassing Diversity & Inclusion Heart Journey strategy,” Sephora is implementing a series of actions throughout its U.S. stores “in order to mitigate racially biased experiences and unfair treatment for shoppers in the retail sector” as well as identifying and combatting bias throughout the organization. Via three strategic areas—Marketing and Merchandising, In-Store Experience and Operations, and Talent and Inclusive Workplaces—Sephora’s Action Plan promises to increase diversity in not only its product offerings and marketing but its workforce, in addition to updating its employee conduct policies to reflect greater accountability.
Ker BusinessWire, key elements of the Action Plan include:
- A doubling of its assortment of Black-owned brands by the end of 2021.
- Prominently featuring and advertise Black-owned brands through an already accessible dedicated tab on the Sephora website.
- More inclusive marketing production guidelines “that reinforce consideration of a diverse array of backgrounds, identities, ages and body types.”
- Expansion and evolution of diverse influencer groups through the Sephora Squad.
- A new greeting system across all stores to ensure a more consistent experience for all guests upon entry.
- New required training modules for all Beauty Advisors to better define ideal client engagement throughout the shopping experience and what behaviors will not be tolerated.
- A Diversity and Inclusion In-Store Experience Dashboard providing monthly analytics on client service to measure employee training efficacy and compliance and a mechanism for client feedback.
- A reduction in third-party in-store security in favor of in-house specialists “with the goal of providing better client care and minimizing shoppers’ concerns of policing.”
- Procedural and operational changes that allow Sephora Beauty Advisors “to focus solely on client service, versus other tasks that can create a friction or misperception by shoppers.”
- Building new recruiting, mentorship, community, and career development programs with the implicit goal of hiring, retaining and supporting employees of color.
- Sharing progress on employee representation on a biannual basis via Sephora.com, a component of its commitment to Uoma Beauty founder Sharon Chuter’s Pull Up For Change initiative.
- Making D&I goals a component of the annual performance metrics of all corporate team members.
- Updating zero-tolerance policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and other violations of Sephora’s code of conduct, and explicit outcomes if violated.
- Increasing frequency and depth of mandatory employee trainings, including the development of new modules to identify bias in the workplace and Unconscious Bias training for all new hires.
In the interest of transparency and accountability, Sephora also promises biannual progress reports via a new D&I-dedicated section of its website, as well as working with other retailers and leading trade and diversity organizations to help ensure best practices across the industry.
“We know that we’re in a strong position to influence positive changes in the retail industry and society at large and it’s our responsibility to step up,” said Rougeot. “We’re committed to doing all we can to make our U.S. retail experience more welcoming for everyone.
“We know it will be a journey, but we’re committed to holding ourselves accountable to this mission for the benefit of our clients, our employees, our communities, and the retail industry at large,” he added.