Sephora closes US stores for inclusivity training

Sephora has apologised to R&B star SZA (above) after she said a store employee in California "called security to make sure I wasn't stealing".
Sephora has apologised to R&B star SZA (above) after she said a store employee in California "called security to make sure I wasn't stealing".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK •In 2015, beauty retailer Sephora applied a new brand tagline called Let's Beauty Together, ditching a prior The Beauty Authority foundation.

Its senior vice-president for marketing and brand, Ms Deborah Yeh, explained the tagline several years later: "Beauty is diverse and has many voices and faces.

"We believe it's for our clients to define and for us to celebrate."

Now, it has to do a makeover.

In April, R&B star SZA, who is black, reported that a Sephora employee in California "called security to make sure I wasn't stealing".

Yesterday, Sephora was set to close all its stores to host a "one-hour inclusivity workshop" for staff in the United States. Separately, the brand apologised to SZA.

The Sephora training follows moves by other fashion and beauty companies to polish their image.

In 2014, Barneys New York agreed to pay US$525,000 in costs, fees and penalties after a nine-month investigation by the state attorney-general found that the store profiled customers by race.

The inquiry was triggered by complaints from two black patrons who described being detained after making expensive purchases.

Prada and Gucci, which were accused of releasing products that were deemed to be racist, also took steps to show their penitence.

Prada created a diversity and inclusion council, led by film director Ava DuVernay and visual artist Theaster Gates.

Gucci hired regional and global managers for diversity and inclusion, created a multicultural design scholarship and participated in a town hall in New York City that was organised by designer and Gucci collaborator Dapper Dan.

SZA's experience stood out given that Sephora is owned by luxury group Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton LVMH, which has received attention for its focus on diversity.

It hired Virgil Abloh as artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear and set up Rihanna in her own brand, Fenty.

Sephora USA had about 10,000 employees as of September last year. That makes it one of the larger companies to shut down temporarily to hold some form of diversity training.

Mr Frank Dobbin, a Harvard sociologist who has studied diversity and discrimination in business, said that more than 1,000 studies had shown that short-term interventions that last only half a day, a day or even a week, were ineffective in changing people's unconscious biases.

"When this is the only thing that a company does, we know it's not going to have much of an effect," he said. "Usually, the leaders are trying to send a signal to the world that they're trying to do something."

However, when paired with other changes, like task forces and mentoring programmes for women and groups of people who make up a minority in the workplace, such training could make a difference, he noted.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2019, with the headline 'Sephora closes US stores for inclusivity training'. Print Edition | Subscribe