As Sephora Turns 25, Corey Yribarren Talks About its Diversity Journey – WWD

While many companies’ inclusion stories started in the post-George Floyd era, Sephora’s began before that.

The idea was a campaign called “We Belong to Something Beautiful,” which the beauty retailer launched in 2019 after a high-profile incident of racial profiling involving R&B singer Sza called for a moment of introspection and the closure of all stores for diversity training.

“It was a sobering moment for Sephora to be able to take pause and reflect. It’s our goal to make sure everyone feels included at Sephora both in store and online and we’ve committed to acting so that everyone in our store feels welcome,” the company’s chief people officer Corey Yribarren said. “No one should feel unwelcome or unseen.”

The “We Belong to Something Beautiful” campaign, she said, “was a part of our promise to our customers, to our employees and communities that we’d continue to make the work happen through Sephora to be a place that is inclusive and a place where everybody really, truly does belong.”

Since then, the company has been on the journey and is working not just to learn but to share its wins and findings with other businesses in hopes they’ll use it to better themselves.

In 2021, Sephora released its “Racial Bias in Retail” study. It was a check on the state of racial bias in the industry as many in the world began to come to terms with the reality “that the retail experience is not always inclusive to all,” as Jean-André Rougeot, president and chief executive officer of Sephora Americas, wrote in the study’s opening.

What the company found, in surveying more than 3,000 U.S. shoppers and just over 1,700 retail employees, was that three out of five retail shoppers have experienced discriminatory treatment, and three in five retail employees have witnessed bias at their place of work.

“We did the study and then we used that really as kind of a launching pad for all of the DE&I work that we’ve done,” Yribarren said.

Today, when it comes to racial representation across leadership at Sephora, according to the company’s latest progress report, the 2022 Annual DE&I Heart Journey Report, 64 percent of its VPs and above are white and 36 percent are people of color. This compares to 72 percent white and 28 percent people of color in the same category in 2020.

Here, Yribarren talks us through Sephora’s ongoing work and vision for the future where diversity, equity and inclusion are concerned.

How do you feel about the progress Sephora has made with regard to DE&I in the last few years?

Corey Yribarren: We’re really proud of the work that we’ve done internally to make sure that the communities really see themselves in our workforce. What’s important for us is that when our customers walk into a store, they feel welcomed, they feel included, but that they also feel that they’re represented in our stores. So, whether it’s in the store leadership or in our office or in our distribution centers, it’s one of those things that we’ve really focused on.

And one of our biggest commitments is actually to representation and to make sure that we’re being super honest and transparent and that’s why I’m proud of our annual DEI report. In ’22 we actually made public our representation numbers; it also was our commitment to being transparent.

This is a journey and this is not something that anybody can perfect. I believe the goal posts constantly move when it comes to being an inclusive workplace and an inclusive retailer.

And the annual report that will come out again in July will show our progress, but you can see from 2020 to now, we’ve grown our leadership in color by 12 percent. It’s something we’re really proud of.

Since the murder of George Floyd, Sephora has implemented a number of key programs, both internally and externally. Can you take us through some of them and their impact to date?

C.Y.: When I look back over the last three years, I think the thing that we’ve really tried to do — and I say try because, again, this is going to be a journey — is it isn’t just about writing a check, it isn’t just about making sure that you’ve got the representation, it is about the culture. And that’s actually where the real work and the hard work is.

When we started this journey, we launched our DEI Heart Journey in 2020. Fortunately, we’re a brand that had a history and was anchored in wanting to be an inclusive place, but when we looked at it we said, “The inside has to match what shows up outside.” So what we did is we launched an unconscious bias toolkit. We launched 20 new inclusivity training modules that are focused on unconscious bias, but also cultural allyship so that our employees are equipped to spot unsupportive work environments and how to improve them.

We’ve launched a talent incubator program. Everybody in the U.S. has an objective in their year that is anchored in DE&I — however that looks, however it shows up in the store or if it’s in HR. We have gone on this journey and our real focus is to make sure that this isn’t just an HR initiative, it isn’t just a marketing blurb, it really is embedded in the fabric of the organization and I think that’s one of the things that sets Sephora apart from other companies.

It’s easier to do the stuff that shows up on the outside. It’s much harder to do the work on the inside. And trust me, we get comments on a regular basis and we’re looking at it and saying, “Why is it that that experience happened and how do we make our experience better?” Because it’s important to always be in a place, in my perspective, of listening, learning, reflecting and evolving. This is an evolution, but the cultural work is really where I think the power and the experience shows up…That’s really the hope, which is why you feel it. It’s not just what you see, but what you feel when you walk in.

A year ago, we announced a partnership with Open to All [a nationwide nonprofit nondiscrimination program] to mitigate a Racial Bias in Retail Charter, where 60 major retailers and brands had joined us in this collaboration, and it’s really a commitment to have meaningful conversations and prompted policy changes, and influence the way that we approach customer interactions.

Where has the most progress been made and where is there work to be done?

C.Y.: We’re proud of a lot of our programs that we’ve done but the real work is that all of our levels of the organization are involved. Everyone has a goal that’s tied to their impact on DE&I, we’re all in. As I shared, it’s not just a tagline. We’re not out there saying we’re going to do x, y and z. The real progress, to me, is started with the work that’s inside the organization.

There’s always work to be done; it’s an evolution. I think that we have a lot of opportunities to continue to evolve the workstreams that we have, but I would say one of the things that we’re most proud of is that our operating committee is intimately involved. We review on a monthly basis our DE&I goals, goals being workstreams as well. And then many of us spearhead most of those workstreams. The cultural adjustment that’s happened inside is actually some of the work that I’m most proud of.

What have been some of the challenges you weren’t expecting to face?

C.Y.: It’s making Sephora the most representative, inclusive and equitable space for our team members and the greater beauty community; it’s not a small task. We never believed it would be without challenge or take time or require lots of support. We have over 19,000 employees. We have to think authentically about where we begin and what’s required, what are the conversations that need to be had.

We’ve been doing this for some time as before our “We Belong to Something Beautiful” campaign, but we can’t do it alone. Some of the real challenges are, how do we as an industry really make impact? And it’s beyond just Sephora. We need more retailers to recognize the significance of the work and we want to make sure BIPOC shoppers feel safe and included throughout their shopping experience.

We are committed to it, we’re taking our own actions and there’s work that we have internally that we’re doing. We’re trying to do more inclusive leadership training, we’re constantly evolving our work and I think, as an industry, there’s still work that has to be done.

Sephora is committed to the 15 percent pledge — how is that going and have you reached the 15 percent yet?

C.Y.: Sephora U.S. was the first major retailer to sign the 15 Percent Pledge and it’s a commitment that we take very seriously. We’ve done an excellent job in striving to our goals, including focusing our accelerator program to support our BIPOC-founded and -owned brands. We felt through this program that we could pull the power of the Sephora brand behind the entrepreneurs. But in addition to just getting them shelf space, which is a piece of it, the program includes a comprehensive mentorship program that gives founders the formula for long-term success in the beauty community, with lessons in finance and marketing and more.

And we’re proud that we’ve reached the 15 percent benchmark in prestige hair care and this year we’ll have 50 percent of our Accelerate brands sold at Sephora. Part of it is not just giving them the space, it’s a matter of providing them the critical skills to help them be long-term successful.

Sephora is nurturing Black entrepreneurs through its Accelerate program.

Tell us about some of the current DE&I goals Sephora is working toward.

C.Y.: When we launched our DE&I Heart Journey in 2020, it was really a commitment to focus on being an employer, being a retailer and being a partner with our community. Our latest DE&I Heart Journey report continues to provide all the updates and, again, part of the focus for us of making sure that it was externally posted, is the commitment to transparency and to show that we’re not perfect but we’re always evolving.

I think a key focus in those 11 workstreams that came out of the Heart Journey is to continue to evolve each one of them. There’s a variety of focuses that we have.

Our All Abilities hiring program in our distribution center is something we’re very, very proud of. Nine percent of our distribution center talent is a person with disability, and it’s 3 percent of our overall employment. And our commitment is really to increase the product diversity in our stores. How do we continue to bring our Accelerate program to life? And how do we continue to bring our All Abilities partnership program into our stores as well?

What would you like to see the company achieve in the next year when it comes to DE&I?

C.Y.: I think continuing on the journey of listening and learning and reflecting and evolving the culture, from diversifying our teams to cultivating inclusive workplaces. We’ll continue to build on our commitments to progress, inspiring other companies and have a positive impact on culture at large.

We continue to look at how Sephora can be more inclusive to people with disabilities in our own stores; retail can be challenging and accessibility in our stores is really important for us. And being a retailer that people can go to and feel that they do belong to something beautiful and they are seen and they can explore their own internal beauty.

What I’ve often said is, “We Belong to Something Beautiful” needs to be authentic and it needs to be true to our values and it needs to match inside the organization in order for it to show up for our employees and in order for us to show up for consumers and retail.

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