Simone Oliver Named New Editor-in-Chief of Refinery29

Simone Oliver attends The Blonds during Fall 2013 MADE Fashion Week at Milk Studios on February 12, 2013, in New York City.
Simone Oliver attends The Blonds during Fall 2013 MADE Fashion Week at Milk Studios on February 12, 2013, in New York City.
Photo: Wendell Teodoro/WireImage (Getty Images)

It’s no secret that amid the racial uprisings that began in earnest this spring were parallel reckonings happening across industries, including entertainment, retail, tech and media. In fact, in June, we reported on the complaints raised against several well-known media imprints as current and former employees bravely called out incidences of discrimination, sidelining, pay inequity, and not-so-microaggressions by almost exclusively white leadership across a variety of mastheads

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Among them was style site Refinery29, which faced unprecedented upheaval as its co-founder and editor-in-chief Christine Barberich resigned amid accusations of creating and perpetuating a discriminatory and “toxic company culture” where “white women’s egos ruled, ”according to former employee Ashley C. Ford (via Twitter). Yet another writer, Ashley Alese Edwards, called out the company’s performative online presence on Blackout Tuesday, writing:

cool blacked out homepage! But you know what real allyship looks like? Paying your Black employees fairly, having Black women in top leadership positions & addressing the [microaggressions] your Black employees deal with from management on a daily basis.

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As we reported in June:

Edwards doubled down, calling on other current and former Refinery29 employees to share their stories of “discrimination and microaggressions [they’ve] experienced from management.” Her request garnered multiple responses, including an anecdote from writer Sesali Bowen about being confused for a caterer by a superior and recollection from writer Channing Hargrove of being asked to write “an apology piece to white women” after a piece she’d written about cultural appropriation went viral.

In response, Barberich stepped down on Monday, June 8, announcing the immediate search for her replacement in a statement via Instagram that read, in part:

I’ve read and taken in the raw and personal accounts of Black women and women of color regarding their experiences inside our company at Refinery29. And, what’s clear from these experiences, is that R29 has to change. We have to do better, and that starts with making room. And, so I will be stepping aside in my role at R29 to help diversify our leadership in editorial and ensure this brand and the people it touches can spark a new defining chapter. A chapter that demands a new voice—both for our team and our audience—one that can shape and guide the critical stories that have the real power to shift and disrupt our culture, helping to eliminate institutional barriers that separate us and hold our society back. ... It’s time for a new generation of leadership that’s truly reflective of the diversity of our audience with divergent points of view, one that builds and expands on our original mission to amplify and celebrate a wide range of voices, perspectives, and stories...stories that need and deserve to be told.

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After a no doubt exhaustive search for Barberich’s replacement over the past two months, on Wednesday, the New York Times reported that Refinery29's new editor-in-chief will be New York Times and Condé Nast veteran Simone Oliver, who has most recently led Facebook and Instagram’s partnerships with magazines and lifestyle brands, and “will oversee Refinery29's articles, videos, audience engagement efforts and partnerships with clothing companies and other brands,” when she begins her new role on Sept. 30, writes the Times, which also reports:

Ms. Oliver, who is Black, was the digital director of the Condé Nast beauty magazine Allure before her three-year stint at Facebook and its sibling site Instagram. At The Times, she was an editor and producer who led several early digital initiatives. In 2011, as the digital editor of Styles, she started @newyorktimesfashion, the paper’s first Instagram account.

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As the Times notes, Oliver is among a wave of new hires that have come in the wake of a media industry disruption many feel has been long overdue. In late August, publishing exec Dawn Davis was hired to replace embattled editor-in-chief of Bon Appetit, Adam Rapoport, while Elle Decor announced Wednesday that its next editor-in-chief will be Asad Syrkett. Refinery29, acquired last year by Vice Media (which has faced its own top leadership resignations amid accusations of toxicity and harassment) will now be in Oliver’s hands—and as she told the Times, she’s more than ready to make the site a more progressive and inclusive one.

“We can push even more on giving new and diverse voices—and not just race and gender—a seat at the table,” she said.

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

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DISCUSSION

This was criminally overdue! I am glad that publishing is being shaken up and made to be more reflective of the makeup of the country. Now if only other Black editrixes could make their way to the top of EVERYTHING that I love to read.

Unsure who might be checking for writing positions in the comments section of The Root, but there may be a technical writing position opening up at my cybersecurity company next month.

While we are on the topic of Black editors, can we take Dean Baquet at NYT to task sometime soon? Replacing Jill Abramson with him was NOT a good move, considering how many missteps the Grey Lady has made under his tenure. Cannot quite place if he is the Ben Carson or Clarence Thomas of publishing, but neither is a great look. So many feelings about publishing overall, but I am glad Refinery29 is moving in the right direction with Oliver at the helm.