Pat McGrath’s Flawless Black History Month and Lessons We Can Learn

Pat McGrath’s Flawless Black History Month and Lessons We Can Learn 

Black History Month just closed. I want to offer some thoughts and invite you to respond so we can reflect on the past, analyze the present and share solutions for a brighter, more profitable and peaceful future. 

Black History Month 2024 has been one filled with amazing content, spotlighting past and current heroes to celebrate. For example, I’d like to highlight Aseanté Renee, a social worker who empowers Black women with the knowledge and tools to navigate tough situations. 

Media, social media platforms and corporate leaders have shared intriguing content about Black innovators often overlooked. At the 614 Group, we are known for brand safety, and believe that that extends to digital safety: brands need to think about proactive ways to ensure customers feel safe and valued. 

A standout story this year involves makeup artist Pat McGrath, whose recent work at the Margiela couture fashion show in Paris redefined viral with fashion journalists and fans alike rabidly savoring any morsel of detail and her products. While other legendary makeup artists have piqued the interest beyond the beauty industry, McGrath has captured the hearts and minds of multiple generations with the young, old and those in between united in awe. McGrath’s iconic “glass face” has dominated the fashion news cycle and social media platforms for weeks because of her cutting-edge masterful artistry. In fact, Vogue magazine deemed McGrath “the most influential makeup artist in the world”. 

On February 16th at New York’s Union Square Sephora, I saw Pat McGrath’s stunning makeup line featured as a Black-owned business. It was exciting to see that she owned her company and her narrative. Next year, I would like to see Sephora’s homepage mirror its store experience showcasing Black-owned businesses on the homepage, above the fold all month! 

However, on February 8th at a Boston Sephora, real life, racism and social media turned a simple day at the mall into a viral brand safety catastrophe. While DEI efforts in schools and at corporations alike are being scrutinized, reduced or eliminated, the evidence of why they are needed remains. Black History is saturated in triumph and tragedy both physical and psychological. Black people are no strangers to racial violence which has spawned headlines and hashtags for far too long.. stereotypes have caused untold harm by dehumanizing. 

One of the most notorious stereotypes is blackface, which unfortunately was what a group of girls decided to partake in by using Sephora’s endless supply of makeup samples. Inevitably this gets uploaded to social media outlets magnifying the situation. According to two witnesses interviewed by the New York Times, the store was overtaken by  “hysterical laughter and animal sounds,” including sheep and monkey noises, coming from the group.” This is particularly disturbing to me due to the legacy of stereotypes depicting Black people as monkeys. 

These witnesses also noted that Sephora employees were ill-equipped to handle the situation and allowed the girls to purchase makeup.  Sephora’s official version in a statement noted “top priority is to create a welcoming and inclusive shopping experience for all…“We are extremely disappointed by and do not condone the behavior and hostility of these shoppers at our Prudential Center location, and as such, they were asked to leave our premises and are no longer allowed to shop with us.” While McGrath’s virality makes Black History, we must also ensure that media and social media platforms and brands are keenly aware of the history of stereotypes and other harmful messaging that can hurt brands and most importantly, people. Stereotypes are happening IRL (in real life) and online and I just wonder if we have the tools to de-escalate and also teach better ways to connect and communicate. I ask that we all consider how to leverage the influence of social media to help fight negative stereotypes that harm people, real people IRL.

Black History Month 2024 like every year is an opportunity to think deeper and do better. Despite progress, recent years have been challenging regarding diversity. The backlash to DEI, the uncertain legislative landscape and the rollback of corporate commitments all present risk and uncertainty to business. In 2020, The Selig Center for Economic Growth which has been tracking inclusive economic insights via their Multicultural Economy report for thirty years released a report on Black buying power “which was $1.4 trillion in 2019 and is projected to grow to $1.8 trillion by 2024.” With customers increasing their buying power and becoming more demanding and discerning about brands, now is the time to spend more not less on inclusion efforts. 

Against this backdrop, I would like to take this opportunity to pivot to solutions and create a space to discuss these inclusion issues. Ultimately like any issue, a solution is equal parts understanding why the problem is happening as well as forging how we move forward. 

People are at the heart of any business. While some companies are doing an excellent job of sharing their commitments to Black history or highlighting their current employees, the recruitment and retention data reveals a deeper story. 

According to an August 2023 Pew Research Center poll, “about four-in-ten Black workers (41%) say they have experienced discrimination or been treated unfairly by an employer in hiring, pay or promotions because of their race or ethnicity. Much smaller shares of Asian (25%), Hispanic (20%) and White (8%) workers say the same.”

Despite the pushback, numerous studies confirm that diverse workplaces improve both job satisfaction and productivity leading to increased profits. A 2022 Research and Markets report stated “diverse companies earn 2.5 times higher cash flow per employee and inclusive teams are more productive by over 35%.” This data is based on surveys from 120 companies, including Deloitte and PwC. 

In conclusion, you cannot fix what you have not measured. A simple solution is to track employee hiring and sentiment. However, this solution will remain a “nice to know” if companies do not resolve to course correct when the data reveal that below the surface of public facing hiring numbers and positive employee programs, persistent issues remain unsolved.

As we at The 614 Group continue to develop a conversation on the critical importance of digital safety and its connection to Brand Safety, we will be highlighting equality as part of the mission. In business, the value in proactive thinking about culture pays dividends. Let the voice of the legendary David Ogilvy inspire our future decisions, “if you always hire people bigger than you are, we become a company of giants.’ Imagine, how many more Pat McGraths are out there?