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Sephora to scale back security guards to combat racial bias

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By JACQUELINE LAUREAN YATES, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — “Shopping while black” is a phrase used to refer to biased treatment Black shoppers often face in retail stores like falsely being accused of theft or being shadowed by secuity guards. Now, makeup brand Sephora is using its platform to counter that bias.

The beauty haven released a study Wednesday centering around racial bias in retail and the results revealed several key findings the company plans to take action against.

The study found that two in five U.S. retail shoppers have personally experienced unfair treatment on the basis of their race or skin tone. It also found that Black retail shoppers are 2.5 times more likely than white shoppers to receive unfair treatment based on their skin color (44% vs. 17%), while Black, Indigenous and shoppers of color are two times more likely than white shoppers to receive unfair treatment based on their ethnicity (30% vs. 15%).

Additionally, the study found that 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, and that “one in three retail employees have contemplated quitting when they experienced racial bias and unfair treatment (31% for all employees; 37% for Black employees).”

Sephora’s study also found that 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.

It also highlighted that U.S. retail shoppers of color 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, shoppers of color have some needs that hold greater importance in helping them feel welcome.

“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,” Jean-André Rougeot, president and CEO, Sephora Americas, said in a statement.

He continued, “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.”

Sephora also presented a preliminary action plan to address bias across its various platforms.

Key action items include:

– 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.

– 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.

– Update zero-tolerance policies that prohibit discrimination, harassment and other violations of its code of conduct to ensure clearer communication, expectation and enforcement of its policies for employees, including set outcomes if violated.

In 2019, Sephora was called out for racial discrimination by singer and songwriter SZA for an encounter she said she had while shopping at one of the brand’s stores in Calabasas, California.

SZA had tweeted “Lmao Sandy Sephora location 614 Calabasas called security to make sure I wasn’t stealing. We had a long talk. U have a blessed day Sandy.”

The brand promptly responded to SZA’s experience and closed all U.S. stores a month later for an hour on June 5 for over 16,000 employees to participate in a one-hour inclusitvy workshop.

“This store closure is part of a long journey in our aspiration to create a more inclusive beauty community and workplace, which has included forming employee resource groups, building social impact and philanthropic programs, and hosting inclusive mindset training for all supervisors,” Sephora previously told ABC News’ Good Morning America.

Sephora said it plans to keep its shoppers and communities abreast of its progress for change.

“We’re proud of the work we’ve done thus far to make diversity, equity and inclusion a priority for the company,” said Rougeot in a statement. “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.”

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