The top editor at Refinery29 has resigned amid complaints by former staffers of a a toxic work culture that favored white employees.
Christene Barberich, the 15-year-old, female-focused site’s longtime global editor in chief who also was one of its founding members, announced on Monday she was stepping down after a handful of former employees took to Twitter last week to complain about the company’s unfair treatment of people of color over the years.
“I’ve read and taken in the raw and personal accounts of Black women and women of color regarding their experiences inside our company at Refinery29,” wrote Barberich, who helped co-found the site along with Philippe von Borries, Justin Stefano and Piera Gelardi.
The editor said Refinery29, which was acquired by Vice Media last October, said in an Instagram post that the site needs “a new voice” that can “shape and guide the critical stories that have the real power to shift and disrupt our culture, helping to eliminate institutional barriers that separate us and hold our society back.”
“We have to do better, and that starts with making room,” Barberich wrote. “And, so I will be stepping aside in my role at R29 to help diversify our leadership in editorial and ensure this brand and the people it touches can spark a new defining chapter.”
Last week, former deputy director of news and politics Ashley Alese Edwards was among ex employees who blasted working conditions at Refinery29.
“It’s really time WE as a community hold these brands accountable,” Edwards wrote. “You know what real ally-ship looks like? Paying your black employees fairly, having black women in top leadership positions & addressing the micro-aggressions your black employees deal with from management on a daily basis.”
Ashley C. Ford wrote that during her near-nine month stint as senior features writer at Refinery29, there was a “toxic company culture where white women’s egos ruled the near nonexistent editorial processes” and one of the founders consistently confused her and another employee. On top of this, “pay disparity was atrocious.”
“This is not to say that *I* personally was underpaid, as I was not, but it didn’t take long to learn that no other black woman at the company was making anything close to my salary, while they were being overworked and under appreciated. I went back to freelancing.”
A rep for Refinery29 did not return requests for comment, but last week, amid the Twitter firestorm, the company said: “We want to use this moment and this platform to say: We hear you. We are, and have always been, a company and a brand that seeks to hold ourselves accountable as we elevate underrepresented voices. And we recognize that commitment starts within our own walls. These changes will require a comprehensive look and assessment of ourselves, and we are committed to doing that work.”