Racism in the Mass Media Industry: The Example of Condé Nast
© Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri
Numerous reputable social and governmental bodies have found racism a socio-political concern contributing to inequalities in health, mental health, education and other types of inequalities.
Deep-rooted racism remains in almost every industry. Over the past few years, Condé Nast's humane and especially ethical stance has been repeatedly challenged by frequent adverse incidents and allegations. Businesses, especially those leading in their fields, have philanthropic commitments towards society, and they are responsible for the social problems they cause.
Founded in 1909, Condé Nast is a leading international media and publishing corporation. They produce content such as print, digital, video, and social media brands, including The New Yorker, Vogue, GQ, and Vanity Fair.
The murder of George Floyd by the police in 2020 drew global attention to racial injustices. Since then, Condé Nast has dealt with multiple accusations of racist behaviour within their own company. After a photo was made public of a top editor of the food magazine Bon Appétit, where he was wearing a stereotypical Puerto Rican costume, he resigned from his position.
The most recent scandal occurred in March 2021. Teen Vogue editor Alexi McCammond
had to resign from her post after discriminatory tweets towards Asians that she wrote a
decade ago resurfaced. Condé Nast stated to have discussed the tweets with
her before posting them. Nevertheless, both employees and customers remained sceptical.
This led not only to reputational damage but also to financial damage. Due to the bad pub-
licity, Ulta Beauty, for instance, paused their seven-figure advertising campaign contract with
Nevertheless, both employees and customers remained sceptical. This led not only to reputational damage but also to financial damage. Due to the bad publicity, Ulta Beauty, for instance, paused their seven-figure advertising campaign contract with Teen Vogue.
Besides external conflicts, there were also internal issues related to inclusion and diversity. Zara Rahim, a former publicist, wrote: "I got a $5k raise for my promotion to a director title and still was paid nearly $50k less than the white woman who had the job before me … And they added diversity responsibilities to my job so I should have been paid for the two jobs I was doing so take this and shove it. I was the only woman of colour in a leadership role. I was told in the end that I was 'complaining too much".
Several other former Condé Nast employees, most of them from the USA, have since spoken about their experiences with racism within the company. Condé Nast is neglecting its responsibility to its BIPOC (black, indigenous, and other people of colour) employees by treating employees with racial biases. Although Condé Nast describes their values as "committed to creating a culture where diverse voices and perspectives are encouraged and respected, and where all employees are equally supported in developing their careers - where people can truly be themselves and feel that they can achieve their best", recent events raise doubts as to whether this statement and thus the values are embedded in the company.
The economic benefits of inclusion and diversity are more substantial than they have ever been. "Companies in the top quartile for both gender and ethnic diversity are 12 per cent more likely to outperform all other companies in the data set." Consequently, inclusion and diversity (I&D) are not solely an element of corporate social strategies, as they are increasingly indispensable in a company's financial strategy as well. McKinsey's latest analysis reconfirms the likelihood of diversified companies outperforming the profitability of non-diversified companies. Acknowledging I&D as a core factor for growth and value creation, and not just as a social justice imperative, provides companies with a competitive advantage.
In 2020, Condé Nast published their first diversity and inclusion report. This report sets out several key initiatives to implement the company's global commitments on diversity and inclusion. The publication of the first report at the end of 2020, the same year that the company faced various public accusations of racism and exclusion, suggests that the report served as an image enhancement strategy to satisfy stakeholders.
After being in the spotlight for criticism of its inclusivity, Condé Nast was pressed to take a closer look at its own operations. Although it was damaging to the corporate image, Condé Nast has the potential to transform what happened into an opportunity to implement changes to prevent such things from recurring. The company has taken its first big step by releasing its first annual diversity and inclusion report in 2020. Condé Nast can further investigate I&D across the organisation and identify as well as correct problems immediately before they become a publicly reported issue.
Condé Nast could further undermine its efforts for more diversity and inclusion by establishing a greater ethical balance within the company. Currently, 68% of all employees in the USA and 77% of all employees are in a managerial position White.
Right: Ethnicities of the total US employees.
Left: Ethnicities of employees in senior leadership positions.
© Condé Nast, Ethical backgrounds at Condé Nast US: Data from 2020
Being a publication entity, Condé Nast also holds a rare power to reach and engage with an enormous audience. Through online platforms or social media, Condé Nast and its brands could engage in wider strategies, launch campaigns to draw attention to the global inequality challenges. Not only would this address past mistakes made by the company, but also demonstrate their awareness of the problems and willingness to stand up for more justice. We all know that as a multinational company with numerous brands, avoiding mistakes is difficult. Equality is a human right and as a publishing house, they ought to take more responsibility to lead the way to a more sustainable and equitable future. Nevertheless, this remains a global challenge and all industries, governments and individuals are called upon to strive for genuine inclusivity.