The Black Lives Matter movement became nationally recognized in 2014, following the deaths of two Black men, Mike Brown and Eric Garner, at the hands of police brutality. Six years later, the Black community has found themselves in the same spot — protesting against the racism embedded in U.S. systems that allow unjust murders of Black people to continue, and deny them the equal economic opportunity of their non-Black counterparts. What’s different this time around is the widespread participation in the conversation. A number of large corporations have spoken out on social media to claim their solidarity with the Black community, condemning racism. Many have even pledged large donations to Black Lives Matter, the NAACP and other supporting organizations.
However, consumers, activists and otherwise onlookers are making it clear that statements and donations should not be where the support ends. Among the individuals demanding further action from large corporations is Uoma Beauty founder and CEO, Sharon Chuter. Shortly after company responses to the protests across the nation came rolling in, including those from the beauty community, Chuter created nonprofit organization, Pull Up for Change, and launched the Pull Up or Shut Up (#PullUpOrShutUp) campaign. The campaign urges companies to go further than their initial statements, perceived by some as simply saving face for good PR, by transparently sharing the number of Black employees in their headquarter offices, and in company leadership roles. The #PullUpOrShutUp philosohpy is that companies unwilling to share their team’s ethinic breakdown should then retract their statements of support.
“You cannot say Black lives matter publicly when you do not show us that Black lives matter within your own home and within your companies,” Chuter said in a debut video on Pull Up for Change’s Instagram page. While the Nigerian-born entrepreneur has been in the beauty industry for over a decade, working with brands such as L’Oreal and Revlon before launching Uoma Beauty in 2019, Chuter’s call-to-action extends to companies across all industries, not the beauty industry alone.
The evidence of systemic racism in corporate America lies plainly in the numbers. Fortune released 2020’s Fortune 500 list in May, a sector of large businesses that account for two-thirds of the U.S. economy, and the list is made up of only five Black CEOs. Furthermore, the list has only seen 18 Black CEOs since 1999. And while African-Americans make up for 13.4% of the U.S. population, they only hold 3.2% of the nation’s senior leadership roles at large companies.
These numbers were reaffirmed as responses to Chuter’s #PullUpOrShutUp challenge trickled in across Instagram. After Chuter demanded transparency from corporations who had made claims to support the Black Lives Matter movement, consumers echoed these demands, and within 72 hours, some of the largest brands in the beauty industry had “pulled up,” and other industries shortly followed. Whether or not their statistics were ideal, Chuter’s goal is to encourage transparency and internal recognition of the need to do better, followed by a plan of action. Since launching on June 3, Pull Up for Change has garnered over 126,000 thousand Instagram followers, and has influenced over 200 companies — from Ulta Beauty, to Gap Inc., to Cosmopolitan Magazine — to pull up.
EBONY spoke with Sharon Chuter to learn more about why this was the perfect time for corporations to pull up for change, and what it can mean for the economic future of Black people.
EBONY: Many brands, including your own, have spoken out online against systemic racism in recent weeks. Why did you decide to go a step further in creating Pull Up for Change?
Chuter: I think, for me, it was just wanting to do something. White people tried to shut down the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014 by saying “All lives matter.” Now, here we are again in the same place, and it feels like the world is ready to listen. At the same time, for a lot of corporations, it felt like instead of using this opportunity to truly go, “This is a moment for true change,” they were too busy doing performative activism. That infuriated me. The first time around, you couldn’t call companies out because they altogether didn't talk about the issue of racism. Now, everybody’s talking about it, and we can hold them accountable. This was an opportunity to drive real change, but you cannot drive change when these conversations are held in secret. Somebody had to do something. I thought, “It’s worth a shot. It might not work. But somebody has to try,” and I put my hand up to be the one to try.
What do you think the number of Black employees at a given corporation’s headquarters and on their leadership team should look like?
We have to remember that these companies are showing us their pre COVID-19 numbers — their best case scenarios — and many of them are still below 10% Black employment at their headquarters. 10% should be a very short-term goal, and next is population parity. Right now, the Black population of America is about 13%, so the number of Black employees at headquartered offices and in leadership roles should be about 13%. A lot of companies are now releasing their plans of action along with timelines to get there, and that is good for us as a community.
Do you see Pull Up for Change growing into an organization that will continue to hold corporations accountable for following through with their proposed plans of action?
Of course. Supporters have expressed wanting periodical updates, so we would like to establish a national day where companies pledge to pull up on that particular day, without being asked. We have these things like ‘National Lipstick Day,’ ‘National Rosé Day,’ ‘National Walk to the Park Day’ — we should have something tangible for the Black community. We will continue to keep the public updated. Beyond that, Pull Up for Change is focused on solutions, and #PullUpOrShutUp is only one campaign. We want to connect employers with employees, create a resource for mentorships and many other tools and resources. It’s our obligation to drive change. Just like the cruelty-free movement, the more we talk about it, the more companies will take it seriously.
How do you feel about the potential for actual improvement from where we are now?
If we all stay with it, it will happen. This can't be just a two week thing. We set up a fire, which means it’s now everyone’s job to keep the flame burning. And what’s important to note is that while people are mostly seeing what’s happening on the outside and on the internet, we have to also give credit to the people who spoke to these companies internally to make sure they pulled up. It’s a team effort: from the consumers, to the people within these organizations letting the CEO’s know that this cannot continue. These warriors inside these companies are going to be the ones to deliver the change. If everyone does their part and stays on it, this could be the biggest economic movement the Black community has seen in a very long time.