Essence Communications CEO Richelieu Dennis has stepped down. The move comes the same week a group called Black Female Anonymous published an essay accusing executives at Essence magazine of facilitating an “extremely unhealthy work culture.”
Essence, a beauty and lifestyle magazine for Black women, “has been hijacked by cultural and corporate greed and an unhinged abuse of power,” the group wrote.
They allege that staff was “systematically suppressed by pay inequity, sexual harassment, corporate bullying, intimidation, colorism and classism.”
The anonymous collective called for the removal of Dennis, as well as Essence Ventures board member and former Essence Communications CEO Michelle Ebanks, COO Joy Collins Profet and Chief Content Officer Moana Luu.
Ebanks, who had been at the helm of Essence since 2001, stepped down in March. Dennis was named interim CEO at the time.
The anonymous group also urged advertisers AT&T, Coca-Cola, Chase Bank, Ford, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, Walmart and Warner Media to “immediately eliminate all active or future sponsorships and media buys at Essence Ventures until the company is under new leadership.”
A petition had over 2,000 signatures by Thursday afternoon.
Essence Communications denied the allegations at first, calling them “unfounded attempts to discredit our brand and assassinate personal character” in a statement published Monday.
However, just a few days later the company named Caroline Wanga interim CEO. She had just joined Essence as new Chief Growth Officer from Target Corp. on Monday.
The company also said it is in the process of hiring law firms and other independent external experts to review the company’s policies.
Dennis, who acquired Essence in 2018 from Time Inc., remains chair of the board of Essence Ventures, Essence's parent company. He is the founder of hair-care company SheaMoisture.