An LA talent management company attempted to show their support for Black Lives Matter by sharing a now typical social media post. But after their former Black employees called them out, the firm had to admit how badly they’ve been missing the mark, including the fact that they have no Black employees.
Amid outrage over the police killing of George Floyd, West Hollywood-based talent firm Digital Brand Architects did what many other companies did at the time and released a social media statement vowing to stand against racial injustice.
“We support our black clients, friends, businesses and communities and we stand with you,” DBA wrote on its Instagram account on May 31.
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Updated: We want to address the comments of frustration and disappointment below. We hear you and are actively addressing where we have fallen short as a company. Our team is taking a deeper look at how we prioritize diversity and are making immediate changes. We are processing current events and will not turn a blind eye to the work we need to do. We will do better.
But the firm’s former receptionist, among other former Black employees, flooded their comments to call out the hypocrisy.
“I was so offended that they would even have the audacity to post that when they didn’t even treat their Black employees with respect,” said Kelsi Coleman, a former receptionist and operations assistant who was laid off from the company in January. “I was just so shocked that they would even say anything about Black Lives Matter or Black anything because they don’t stand behind that within their company.”
DBA has since issued an updated response where they appear to have taken accountability for their lack of diversity saying it is “actively addressing where we have fallen short as a company.”
But it took an LA Times interview with Coleman and several other employees of color, including former managers, to unearth DBA’s culture that often left Black employees feeling marginalized and discriminated against.
A former HR Manager at the company recalled how white coworkers would rap lyrics with the N-word multiple times in front of her. A Black assistant said a white employee had referred to her as a “dishwasher” and she was laid off after complaining about the discrimination. A former brand manager said she was fired after only one month working with the company and noticing how her boss shut down her ideas.
DBA Chief Executive Raina Penchansky said while the company could not address specific allegations from former employees, the company does take the complaints seriously.
“We have heard and listened to the experiences detailed by several of our former colleagues,” Penchansky said in a statement. “While we may dispute some of the assertions that have been made, we respect the confidentiality that surrounds their employment, and are compelled to use our space in this moment to focus on the work we need to do.”
Penchansky added that DBA has since hired a diversity and inclusion consultant to help them implement new practices.
“We are dedicated to implementing new practices, new talent and new businesses that better serve the Black Community,” she added. “We have been rightfully called out for being late to addressing our need for improvement and will now devote ourselves to that immediate and meaningful change.”
The company released an updated post on social media where they took accountability and shared their action plan toward inclusion for people of color, particularly Black people. DBA, which has offices in L.A. and New York, also shamefully admitted that of their 60 employees, 92% of whom are women and 20% people of color, none of them Black.
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To everyone who spoke up, we’ve heard you, and we thank you. While no one ever wants their company to face their failures in public, we have to own that if it wasn’t for this moment, we may not have addressed our culture and lack of inclusion with the pace and urgency it deserves and requires.
Korie Steward, an experienced and former head of human resources was hired to help DBA with their diversity efforts but was fired after just 12 days on the job. Because Steward signed a nondisparagement clause as part of her severance agreement, she declined to be interviewed. But she took to Instagram to share a 38-minute testimonial of her experience at DBA.
In her video, Steward recalled offensive comments made to her by white colleagues at a work dinner the day before she was fired. She told about a white staffer who asked Steward if it was okay to say the N-word if it’s in a rap song’s lyrics. Steward told the female staffer that she personally felt it wasn’t appropriate for a white person to say the racial slur.
However, she says the white staffer, along with other co-workers, played Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” on a phone and proceeded to rap the N-word several times right in front of Steward.
“It was very, very disturbing to me,” Steward said of her experience at DBA. “It really, really scarred me. It broke every ounce of confidence I had.”
She also recalled being asked by one white employee if she knew her real father because
“I know in your culture, people don’t know their real fathers”.
Press play below for Steward’s full video testimonial on her experience at DBA and remember to keep holding them accountable!