Strength in Numbers: Mitigating Racial Bias in Retail Collaboration Honored by Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Awards

Open to All
4 min readMay 18, 2023

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Written by Calla Devlin Rongerude, Managing Director, Open to All and George-Axelle Broussillon Matschinga, Vice President Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Sephora

Two in five U.S. retail shoppers have personally experienced unfair treatment on the basis of their race or skin tone. And Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) shoppers are three times more likely than white shoppers to feel most often judged by their skin color and ethnicity.

These findings were revealed as part of a first-ever national study on Racial Bias in US Retail, commissioned by beauty retail giant and Open to All® member Sephora. Published in January 2021, the landmark study found that racial bias in retail is pervasive for both shoppers and employees. The study also included actionable solutions for retailers to mitigate racially biased experiences.

As part of their announcement, Sephora unveiled a detailed action plan to tackle bias across all aspects of the organization, including doubling its assortment of Black-owned brands by the end of 2021, implementing new training modules for employees, creating a system for client service and feedback, and building new programs to support sourcing, hiring, and advancement of employees of color.

When the study was released, Open to All was proud to be a rollout partner; however, Sephora and Open to All were eager to see fellow retailers take action to have industry-wide impact.

Retail thrives on interpersonal connection. From conversations with customers to the careful planning of storefronts, marketing campaigns, and product assortment to create a fulfilling shopper experience, the comfort, consideration, and fair treatment of others remain a core tenet of the industry. Yet, in our nation’s ongoing conversations about fair treatment in the face of racial injustice, retailers have had to recognize that not all shoppers feel welcome or are given the luxury of comfort and inclusion in their spaces.

Open to All and Sephora collaborated to use the study’s findings to co-design a charter and create a collaboration with the goal of transforming the retail sector. Open to All’s Inclusive Retail Working Group embraced the opportunity to collaborate and on May 18, 2022, Sephora and Open to All launched the Mitigate Racial Bias in Retail Charter with twenty-six retail brands, a research-driven initiative offering tangible steps retailers can take to be more inclusive, including:

  • Designing and implementing actions that mitigate racial bias from the shopper experience.
  • Fostering inclusive shopping experiences for all, regardless of their race and ethnicity.
  • Being accountable to our shoppers, our employees, and the retail industry.
  • Working together to share best practices across the retail industry to drive change.

One year later, we have more than doubled the number of signatories, with 60+ brands joining the collaboration. This month, the work was honored by Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Awards in three categories: Large Business, Social Justice, and General Excellence. We’re humbled by this honor, and also inspired to keep growing and deepening this work.

Open to All’s Inclusive Retail Working Group has been collaborating on initiatives to create retail environments that are welcoming for all. Training surrounding racial bias and other types of identities are stepping stones to allyship and cultural transformation, but DEI efforts have not been restricted solely to training, DEI/HR departments or specific DEI events. Tangible instances of bias, such as a lack of service on the sales floor, questioning of customers’ ability to afford products, racial profiling and following BIPOC shoppers, and poor reception from employees and security personnel, require tangible action to mitigate racial bias.

Rethinking retail is not an individual undertaking. To truly change a culture that permeates the whole sector, companies must assess their biases while being receptive to methods that have been successful in other organizations. Through this openness and collaboration, members of Open to All’s Inclusive Retail Working Group are implementing that thoroughly by considering the experiences of employees and customers alike to increase the hiring and retention rates of employees of color both in store and in corporate offices, reimagining marketing campaigns to be inclusive of all, and working directly with entrepreneurs of color to get their products on shelves and available to wider audiences.

We’re honored to convene a variety of retailers that are investing in lasting, meaningful impact. There is still work to be done. Until every single person who walks into a store is treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve, this journey to inclusion will continue. But, when we undergo this journey together, we can systematically and collectively address racial bias and proactively create an industry where inclusion is the norm, not the exception.

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Open to All

At a time of deep divisions, we’re joining together from all walks of life and work to build a thriving and inclusive nation where all are welcome.