The crisis that ensued at Teen Vogue following the revelations of decade-old racist and homophobic social media posts authored by newly named and quickly forced to resign editor and chief, Alexi McCammond, can serve as a case study for other organizations.
Teen Vogue attempted to solve the racial inequity problems they had not fully assessed or addressed. Like many organizations, Teen Vogue not only lacked clarity about the problems around racial inequity they were trying to solve, they also lacked clarity regarding their current identity and who they wanted to become. Under the best scenario the hire of McCammond, especially since they were still grappling with the public exposure of a racist culture in other parts of their portfolio, would have been froth with complications. An organization’s history of racism and sexism cannot magically disappear with the hiring of one individual.
Let’s be honest, given the realities of our country, historically through today, many organizations have a history of racism and discrimination. With this context, tapping a person of color who is ultimately responsible for setting the tone, strategic direction, and policies as well as being the “face” of an organization is very significant. It says a lot about who your organization is and also who your organization is becoming. And this hire said a lot.
Although much of it has been personalized/individualized to McCammond herself, it says so much more about Teen Vogue as an organization. It says that they did not do the deep work required for turning things around. Just appointing a person of color to the highest position is a recipe for failure especially when the organization has a history of racism and continues to demonstrate racist practices and tendencies.
Of course, more people of color must be hired at all levels — including in strategic high-impact leadership roles. But hiring alone is not enough. A corporation, like Teen Vogue, must also make an organization-wide commitment to and practice of racial equity for the long haul. One that goes beyond a public statement promising that the organization will do better in the future and is accompanied by deep racial equity work which includes a formal examination of systems, policies, and practices within and across the organization that consistently advantage white people and men while disadvantaging people of color and women. This examination will better enable organizations to develop and deploy strategic and appropriate interventions for lasting impact and ultimately eliminate racial (and gender) inequities, not merely treat the symptoms.
Eliminating and not reinforcing racist and sexist practices in organizations that impart harm to minds, bodies, and spirits is an attainable goal and just as important as generating shareholder returns, year-over-year growth, or program efficiency.
Dr. Kerry Mitchell Brown is the Founder/Principal of KMB, but most of all, she is an Equity Strategist and Cultural Architect. Her background in organizational development and social justice advocacy is the foundation for her work with individuals, organizations, and corporations. Dr. Kerry Mitchell Brown has specialized expertise in evaluating and executing holistic cultural change in organizations focused on realizing sustainable transformation through strategic interventions.