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Ulta to Boost Anti-Bias Training and Sell More Black-Owned Brands

Employee training is a major component of the plan, following allegations of racial profiling in stores and a lack of diversity in brands carried as well as advertising campaigns.
Teens wait in line to enter an Ulta Beauty store in LA | Source: Shutterstock
Ulta Beauty has 30 million active Ultimate Rewards members | Source: Shutterstock

Ulta Beauty Inc., the country’s biggest cosmetics retailer, plans to increase spending on inclusion and anti-discrimination training programs and will boost the number of products for sale by Black-owned businesses as the industry tries to address racial inequality.

Included in the commitment is $2 million for staff training this year to “ensure equality in guest experiences.” In 2019, several Ulta employees spoke out about racial profiling of customers in the company’s stores.

In an effort to blunt criticism, the makeup and skincare industries have been rolling out diversity commitments after the police killing of George Floyd last year sparked widespread protests against systemic racism. Last June, Estée Lauder Cos. pledged to boost Black hiring after an employee revolt and Sephora laid out a plan in January to crack down on bias among its staff and improve its standing with shoppers of colour.

The cosmetics industry has stood out, even as corporations worldwide promise change in executive suites and boardrooms, because it presides over cultural definitions of beauty. Over the years, critics have pointed to a lack of diversity in both what’s sold and how it’s marketed.

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That’s led to some changes, including more diverse models in advertising and wider ranges of makeup shades to appeal to a broader swath of customers. Skin lightening products have come under some of the most pointed scrutiny, and several of the largest beauty companies either renamed or discontinued some brands, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Neutrogena Fine Fairness Brightening Serum.

As part of Ulta’s efforts, it will double the number of Black-owned beauty labels on its shelves to about 5 percent of its store offerings by the end of the year. The company plans to spend $4 million to market them. New brands include Mented Cosmetics, Keys Soulcare and Blackgirl Sunscreen.

Executives do not yet plan to join the 15 Percent Pledge, which asks major retailers to devote 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. So far, 18 chains have signed on, including Gap Inc., Macy’s Inc. and Ulta’s top rival Sephora.

By Mitsuru Shibata

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