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01/13/2021

Sephora launches action plan to fight racial bias in stores

Marianne Wilson
Editor-in-Chief
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Sephora will implement major changes across all of its U.S. stores and company in order to mitigate racially biased experiences and unfair treatment for shoppers in the retail sector.

The changes are part of a wide-ranging plan that includes increased diversity in the beauty retailer’s product offerings and workforce, more inclusive marketing programming, and greater accountability through the institution of updated employee conduct policies.  The plan is based on the results of a year-long — and first-of-its-kind —large-scale study on racial bias in retail that was commissioned by Sephora, which is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

The Racial Bias in Retail Study was designed to measure the issue of racially biased experiences in U.S. retail, and to identify opportunities to end unfair treatment. It draws from academic research as well as interviews with shoppers and retail employees.  (To view the study, click here.)

According to the study, two in five U.S. retail shoppers have personally experienced unfair treatment on the basis of their race or skin tone. Black shoppers are two-and-a-half times more likely than white shoppers to receive unfair treatment based on their skin color (44% vs. 17%), while BIPOC shoppers are two more likely than white shoppers to receive unfair treatment based on their ethnicity (30% vs. 15%).

In other findings, one in five retail employees report having personally experienced unfair treatment based on their race at their place of work (20%)—either from customers or coworkers.

The changes that Sephora is making fall into three buckets: the in-store experience and operations; marketing and merchandising; and talent and inclusive workplaces.

On the store experience/ops front, the retailer will reduce the presence of third-party security officers at its approximate 500 U.S. stores and use more in-house specialists, with the goal of minimizing shoppers’ concerns of policing. It also will roll out a new greeting system across all stores to ensure a more consistent experience for all shoppers.

With regards to marketing and merchandising, Sephora plans to double its assortment of Black-owned brands by the end of 2021. It will also prominently feature and advertise Black-owned brands via a dedicated tab on its website. 

  • When it comes to talent and inclusive workplaces, plans including building new recruiting, mentorship, community and career development programs to support the sourcing, hiring and advancement of employees of color. 

Also, Sephora will increase the frequency and depth of employee trainings and add new modules that offer strategies to identify bias and exhibit inclusive behaviors in the workplace. And corporate team members have diversity and inclusion goals as part of their annual performance metrics. (For a more complete listing of Sephora’s action plan, click here.)

“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 – but the reality is that shoppers at Sephora, and in U.S. retail more broadly, are not always treated fairly and consistently,” said Jean-André Rougeot, president and CEO, Sephora Americas. “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. We’re committed to doing all we can to make our U.S. retail experience more welcoming for everyone. Today, we are proud to share a first-look at Sephora’s action plan designed to tackle the issue of unfair treatment.”

The research, first and foremost, underscores how pervasive the issue is for U.S. retail shoppers and employees:

  • Two in five U.S. retail shoppers have personally experienced unfair treatment on the basis of their race or skin tone.
  • Black retail shoppers are 2.5x more likely than white shoppers to receive unfair treatment based on their skin color (44% vs. 17%), while BIPOC shoppers are 2x more likely than white shoppers to receive unfair treatment based on their ethnicity (30% vs. 15%).
  • One in five retail employees report having personally experienced unfair treatment based on their race at their place of work (20%)—either from customers or coworkers.
  • One in three retail employees have contemplated quitting when they experienced racial bias and unfair treatment (31% for all employees; 37% for Black employees).

The research identified five primary “truths” that define retail shoppers’ experiences with racial bias, including:

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. Three in four retail shoppers (74%) feel that marketing fails to showcase a diverse range of skin tones, body types, and hair textures, while two in three (65%) think stores fail to deliver an equally-distributed assortment of products catering to different shoppers’ tastes and preferences. Moreover, nearly four in five retail shoppers (78%) don’t believe there is representation in brands or companies that are owned by and made for people of color.

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. BIPOC retail shoppers are 3x more likely than white shoppers to feel most often judged by their skin color and ethnicity (32% vs. 9%). White shoppers, on the other hand, are more likely to cite factors like age (27% vs. 12%) or attractiveness (13% vs. 7%), as the primary basis of the treatment they face.

While shoppers feel they are being judged by their appearance, three in five (60%) retail employees surveyed cited behavioral attributes rather than physical attributes when determining how to approach or interact with shoppers. This gap in perception results in a significant disconnect between how shoppers and employees interpret interactions in U.S. retail.

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. The study also showed there are clear areas where retailers can focus efforts to make the shopping experience more inclusive and welcoming for all. The findings show that BIPOC shoppers have some needs that hold greater importance in helping them feel welcome compared to white shoppers in creating a positive in-store experience, including promptly being greeted and offering assistance when shoppers enter the store, telling shoppers about new products, offers, and services, and having store associates who “look like me.”

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. Only 30% of shoppers reacted actively to unfair treatment as a means of providing feedback to the 

TRUTH #5: Meaningful and long-term action is most important to U.S. retail shoppers and employees. Both expect retailers to show their commitment to change through new programs, training and tools designed to address these pervasive issues. But this is not often the reality for many retail shoppers who have experienced unfair treatment: BIPOC shoppers are 3x less likely than white shoppers to say the retailer addressed their experience with a change in store policy (34% vs. 11%). And while a majority (81%) of retail employees recognize the importance of being able to service diverse shopper needs, fewer than one in three (27%) feel confident they can meet them extremely well, with many expressing a desire for more training and education to address these gaps.

Sephora’s Action Plan

Coupled with the study’s findings and the retailer’s all-encompassing Diversity & Inclusion Heart Journey strategy, Sephora has designed a preliminary action plan to tackle bias across all aspects of its organization via three key areas.

Marketing and Merchandising

  • Building on Sephora’s commitment to the 15 Percent Pledge, the company will double its assortment of Black-owned brands by the end of 2021.
  • Prominently feature and advertise Black-owned brands through a dedicated tab on the Sephora website, which is already in progress.
  • Evolve the 2021 Accelerate brand incubator program to focus exclusively on cultivating and growing BIPOC-owned and founded brands.
  • Establish new marketing production guidelines that reinforce consideration of a diverse array of backgrounds, identities, ages and body types in our campaigns, social media, marketing and more.
  • Continue cultivating one of the industry’s most diverse influencer groups through the Sephora Squad.

The In-Store Experience and Operations

  • Roll out a new greeting system across all stores to ensure a more consistent experience for all store visitors upon entry.
  • Create new training modules required for all Beauty Advisors that better define what client engagement should look like at each point in the shopping experience and what behaviors will not be tolerated.
  • Establish a D&I In-Store Experience Dashboard that will provide analytics on client service and feedback to stores on a monthly basis to measure employee training compliance and efficacy.
  • Implement new client feedback mechanisms to better identify incidents of bias, including those experienced by non-purchasers.
  • Reduce the presence of third-party security vendors in stores and utilize more in-house specialists, with the goal of providing better client care and minimizing shoppers’ concerns of policing.
  • Implement procedural and operational changes to better allow Beauty Advisors to focus solely on client service, versus other tasks that can create a friction or misperception by shoppers.

Talent and Inclusive Workplaces

  • Build new recruiting, mentorship, community, and career development programs to support the sourcing, hiring and advancement of employees of color.
  • Building on its Pull Up For Change commitment, Sephora will transparently share progress on employee representation on a bi-annual basis at Sephora.com.
  • Ensure all corporate team members have D&I goals as part of their annual performance metrics.
  • Update zero-tolerance policies that prohibit discrimination, harassment and other violations of our code of conduct to ensure clearer communication, expectation and enforcement of our policies for employees, including set outcomes if violated.
  • Ensure 100% participation with foundational Unconscious Bias training for all new hires.
  • Increase the frequency and depth of employee trainings, adding new modules that offer strategies to identify bias and exhibit inclusive behaviors in the workplace.

Added Rougeot: “We’re proud of the work we’ve done thus far to make diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority for the company. We are stronger as a retail community when we are serving the needs of all of our shoppers, and hope other retailers will join us, with the ultimate goal of advancing inclusivity and improving the retail experience for all.”