Ever since corporations, non-profits and media conglomerates have begun to publicly show support for #BlackLivesMatter—the first time for many of them—there has been an interesting pushback. In every industry, Black employees have been calling out the hypocrisy of these sudden acts of solidarity in order to push for actual diversity and better treatment for folks of color in the workplace.
One of those people not afraid to speak up is Beverly Johnson, who in an op-ed for the Washington Post recalled how breaking all these glass ceilings as an African-American model in the 70s was meant to usher in groundbreaking change, but sadly, it did not.
“My debut was meant to usher in a current of change in the fashion industry,” she said. “But as the national conversation around racism expands, stories about discrimination in the fashion industry and at Vogue, in particular, have come under the spotlight,” she wrote.
She continued pointing out how racism in the fashion industry dramatically impacted her career, especially being someone who fought for inclusion at her many of her photoshoots.
“My race limited me to significantly lower compensation than my white peers,” she said. “The industry was slow to include other black people in other aspects of the fashion and beauty industry. I was reprimanded for requesting Black photographers, makeup artists and hairstylists for photo shoots. Silence on race was then — and still is — the cost of admission to the fashion industry’s top echelons.”
Adding, “Black culture contributes enormously to the fashion industry. But Black people are not compensated for it. Brands do not retain and promote the many talented Black professionals already in the fashion, beauty and media workforce. Brands do not significantly invest in black designers. The fashion industry pirates blackness for profit while excluding black people and preventing them from monetizing their talents.”
In addition, the first Black woman to be on a cover in Vogue is using this time of reckoning to demand that the industry, especially publications housed at Conde Nast, be more inclusive in who is in front of and behind the camera. Looking specifically at Anna Wintour, who recently emailed her apologizing for her past treatment of Black employees, Johnson wants her to be held accountable for being what’s stemying change in the industry.
“[ Wintour] is arguably the most powerful person in the world of fashion,” adding her “power would ostensibly allow her to hold her peers in fashion accountable for making structural changes.”
“I propose the ‘Beverly Johnson Rule’ for Condé Nast, similar to the Rooney Rule in the NFL that mandates that a diverse set of candidates must be interviewed for any open coaching and front office position,” she said. “The ‘Beverly Johnson Rule’ would require at least two Black professionals to be meaningfully interviewed for influential positions. This rule would be especially relevant to boards of directors, C-suite executives, top editorial positions and other influential roles.”
In reaction to this rule, Conde Nast recently told the TODAY show that they are “focused on creating meaningful, sustainable change and continues to implement an inclusive hiring process to ensure that a diverse range of candidates is considered for all open positions.”
But be clear: Johnson doesn’t just want for the “Beverly Johnson Rule” to be about Conde Nast. She wants this to a global policy that every publication adopts moving forward.
“Forty-six years after my Vogue cover, I want to move from being an icon to an iconoclast and continue fighting the racism and exclusion that have been an ugly part of the beauty business for far too long.”
Read Johnson’s op-ed in its entirety here.