Christene Barberich, co-founder and longtime global editor-in-chief of Refinery29, announced that she would be stepping down from the head of the company on Monday. The cause? Accusations of racism and toxic company culture at the media business she helped create in 2005.
Refinery29 is the latest company to come under the microscope — and be found wanting — as conversations about race and representation continue to amp up across the United States. Former Refinery29 employees began speaking out about their experiences at the company after seeing the publication black out its homepage on June 2 for #BlackoutTuesday.
"Hey @Refinery29, 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 microagressions your Black employees deal with from management on a daily basis," tweeted former employee Ashley Alese Edwards.
Edwards's thread spurred a flurry of stories from other Black Refinery29 former employees, who described "atrocious" pay disparities, called the company "violently clueless about race" and recalled when the "EIC cried in a meeting bc someone said she was 'squeamish' about race and said she had to go home for the day."
A few days later on June 5, Refinery29 released a statement in response.
"We would like to recognize and acknowledge the conversations raised by our former employees around their experience working at Refinery29 as Black women and women of color," it read. "We are, and always have been, a company and a brand that seeks to hold ourselves accountable as we elevate underrepresented voices. And we recognize that commitment starts within our own walls."
The company went on to acknowledge that this was just "the first step," and on Monday, Barberich's Instagram announcement that she would be stepping down seemed a clear second step.
"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," Barberich wrote. "It's time for a new generation of leadership that's truly reflective of the diversity of our audience with divergent points of view."
While Refinery29 has yet to name Barberich's successor, she made clear that the company is beginning its search for the next editor-in-chief immediately.