Beauty & Wellness Briefing: Inside Beauty Brand Ulta’s first-ever Diversity Week

beauty stand

This article was reported on — and first published by — Digiday sibling Glossy.

This week, I offer a fly-on-the-wall look at what diversity and inclusion mean at Ulta Beauty.

Following George Floyd’s death and the onslaught of Black Lives Matter protests that followed, many companies pledged their commitments to diversity and inclusion efforts. Donations were made and Instagram posts were shared, but many of those exercises did not reflect on internal companies’ cultures. That changed in the beauty industry when Sharon Chuter’s Pull Up For Change lit a fire under brands across the board.

However, since last summer, not much has been publicly shared by brands about their diversity and inclusion efforts. That includes the progress being driven by the various boards that were created, like Shiseido’s Diversity and Inclusion Group or L’Oréal’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board. Ulta Beauty, meanwhile, is a different story.

Last week, Ulta Beauty held its first-ever “Diversity Week” for all of its 8,800-plus corporate, store and distribution center employees. The five days of programming included group training “chat-ins” and distributed resources. The various sessions were held live, but they were also recorded for those who were not able to attend. I was allowed to attend multiple sessions and review resource materials throughout the week.

Mary Dillon, CEO of Ulta Beauty, kicked off the programming with a fireside chat on risk-taking and leadership with Emma Walmsley, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, and Dina Powell McCormick, Goldman Sach’s global head of sustainability and inclusive growth. President and incoming CEO Dave Kimbell offered his sympathies and condolences to Daunte Wright’s family, Black employees and those in Minneapolis before introducing LaSaia Wade, founder of TNTJ Tennessee Trans Journey Project and director of the Black- and trans-led LGBTQ+ center Brave Space Alliance. Later in the week, during a discussion on generational differences in the workplace, something that has not been explored much at Ulta Beauty, according to Crystal Banks, Ulta Beauty director of diversity and inclusion, Kimbell joked about having a landline and a beeper.

“This idea of interconnection is critical to understanding data, understanding the depth of the human experience, and ultimately [understanding] how that influences each individual’s life and what they experience in the world around us. What’s interesting is that none of us, of course, are defined by any singular dimension of who we are. It’s a combination of elements that create the unique, special individuals that each of us are. Unfortunately, this intersectionality can often lead to added levels of pain and discrimination for many,” said Kimbell in his talk with Wade.

While the Zoom sessions were held, store associates were encouraged to host “chat-ins” around topics like bias and emotional intelligence to fuel conversations. On average, 200 individual and store accounts attended the Zoom sessions. According to internal company data, Ulta Beauty’s associates are 92% female and 8% male. Forty-six percent of current employees are people of color, up from 40% last summer. Six percent of corporate associates are Black. Within its board of directors, 55% are women, 45% are men and 18% are Black.

Plans for Ulta Beauty’s Diversity Week began in November and were led by a team of four employees (just two were full-time staff), said Banks. Though Ulta Beauty had hosted various one-day events in 2020 for Black History Month and Women’s History Month, for example, the company was hoping to offer its employees a more holistic and educational view last week of diversity and inclusion. Banks said the plan is to hopefully host an immersive D&I experience once a year.

“Everyone is in different places of comfort and different points within their own D&I journeys. We said, ‘How can we continue to educate people knowing that?'” said Banks.

To that end, Ulta Beauty’s team tasked “champions” (Ulta employees who have waved their hands to help shape the company’s D&I) to lead panel discussions, versus only focusing on executives. Dillon and Kimbell did ask questions throughout sessions, as did chief store operations officer Kecia Steelman.

“It allowed our employees to see our leaders in a different light and humanize them,” Banks said of the feedback. “I think a lot of people didn’t expect to see our CEO or Dave, our new CEO, to be so involved in this.” Another highlight, she said, was when Wade said she doesn’t like the word ally; instead, she said, BIPOC people need “comrades,” or people who are going to help fight in the trenches with them for racial justice. Ulta Beauty also offered family resources, curated playlists and Ted Talks, cooking classes, and other activities to enable its staff to participate in D&I activities that work for them.

“Different channels and tactics are going to touch people differently,” said Banks. “We thought a lot about how to meet people where they are versus where we want them to go.”

Publicly, Ulta Beauty has increasingly been visible on the issues of diversity and inclusion, too. On March 25, it posted on Instagram its stance on hate and D&I and highlighted Trans Day of Visibility on March 31. Earlier in the month, Ulta Beauty pulled ad dollars from Condé Nast-owned Teen Vogue over new editor Alexi McCammond’s past tweets. (McCammond has since resigned.) It’s helped that brand partners like Chuter’s Uoma Beauty have helped challenge the company, and that its assortment has increasingly become more diverse with newer partners like Briogeo.

But Banks said this is also what employees are asking for: “These topics are very personal to our associates and affect them. We have to recognize this and say we support them. The journey we are on isn’t always easy, but this is who we are, who we want to be.”

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