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Investigations at Essence Find No Evidence of Abusive Work Culture


Shortly after the June 28 publication of the Black Female Anonymous essay, Mr. Dennis stepped away from his daily leadership role at the company. Caroline A. Wanga, a former Target executive who was serving as Essence’s chief growth officer, was named interim chief executive, a role she still holds, the company said.

Ms. Wanga said in a statement that the company had handled the allegations appropriately.

“When faced with anonymous allegations, unlike leaders who would have tried to keep it as private as possible out of concern it would diminish the company, Richelieu boldly called for a full review of all allegations, because he knows that the cultural investment made in this iconic brand would transcend the untruths being spread in an attempt to diminish it and his leadership,” she said.

Essence magazine, the pre-eminent lifestyle publication for Black women, celebrated its 50th anniversary with its May issue, which featured the model Naomi Campbell on the cover. The magazine has a circulation of more than one million, and its website attracts nearly seven million visitors each month.

“Essence holds a special place in the heart of a lot of Black women,” said Yanick Rice Lamb, a professor of journalism at Howard University, who has been a contributor to the magazine. “Many Black women grew up on Essence, and when it was started, there weren’t that many publications for us.”

Many Essence readers were pleased that the company returned to Black ownership when it was bought by Mr. Dennis. He is the Liberian-born founder of Sundial Brands, the parent company of the Black, woman-centric beauty lines SheaMoisture and Nubian Heritage.

The report from Morgan Lewis was not all sunshine, however. Investigators noted “a widely shared sentiment that employees feel overworked and unappreciated.”

“Several witnesses stated that they feel pressured to work incredibly hard without recognition or reward and there are no boundaries or work-life balance,” the report said. “According to a number of employees, much of this work is generated by poor planning and a lack of communication from certain members of management. Based on our interviews, there also is a lack of transparency with respect to pay and promotions.”

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