Essence Magazine is facing some pretty damning accusations.
An anonymous coalition of Black women are calling for “the immediate resignation of Richelieu Dennis, Owner & Chief Executive Officer of Essence Ventures (Essence Communications including Essence Magazine, Essence.com and Essence Festival), Michelle Ebanks, Essence Ventures board member and former Essence Communications CEO, Joy Collins Profet, Chief Operating Officer, and MoAna Luu, Chief Content Officer.”
In an essay shared along with a petition for Essence sponsors (including AT&T, Chase Bank, Coca Cola, Ford, and Procter & Gamble) to “immediately divest all active and future sponsorships and media buys at Essence Communications,” Essence leadership is being accused of fostering a toxic workplace culture on several different levels.
The allegations read:
Black women who makeup over 80% of Essence’s workforce are repeatedly suppressed with pay inequity, sexual harassment, workplace bullying, and intimidation. Scores of talented Black women have been either wrongfully laid off or forced to resign from the company in the past two years.
Richelieu Dennis’s wife Martha Dennis, is the parent company’s (Essence Ventures) head of Human Resources, a blatant conflict of interest. Martha is complicit in her husband’s abuse of power and intimidation tactics.
Leadership approved layoffs of Black female staff recently returned from maternal leave. Other Black female staff have been threatened with dismissal during maternity leave, and were not timely offered healthcare coverage in time for leave.
Dennis has a history of sleeping with women under his employ at Sundial (owner of Shea Moisture, acquired by Unilever in 2017). Black female staff at Essence have experienced sexual harassment by Dennis.
Dennis tried to force Essence employees and contractors to sign non-disclosure agreements that exclusively protects him and his family from liability or disparagement after a string of wrongful layoffs and other potentially libelous business activity. When staff raised questions about the NDA, the executive leadership team launched a series of intimidation tactics on its mostly Black female staff.
Essence, a publication for Black women, being accused of mistreating Black women, is definitely not a good look. It’ll be interesting to see how the publication’s leadership chooses to respond.