Refinery29 Top Editor Christene Barberich Steps Down After Backlash Over Lack of Diversity, ‘Racist Aggressions’

Katie Jones/Variety/Shutterstock

After criticism over Refinery29’s lack of racial diversity and allegations of racial discrimination, Christene Barberich, co-founder and global editor-in-chief of the women-focused media brand, announced that she is stepping down from the EIC role.

Refinery29 is part of Vice Media Group, which acquired the digital-media company last fall. Barberich’s move to relinquish the top editorial role came after “many women of color” last week came forward to “thoughtfully share their experiences of racist aggressions at @Refinery29,” the R29 Union tweeted on June 5. “Their honesty deserves honesty in return.”

Barberich announced in an Instagram post Monday that she is stepping aside as Refinery29’s EIC “to help diversify our leadership in editorial and ensure this brand and the people it touches can spark a new defining chapter.”

Vice Media Group and Refinery29 have commenced the search for a new EIC.

“I’d like to start by saying that I’ve read and taken in the raw and personal accounts of Black women and women of color regarding their experiences inside our company at Refinery29,” Barberich wrote. “And, what’s clear from these experiences, is that R29 has to change. We have to do better, and that starts with making room.”

Among the accounts from ex-R29 staffers last week, writer Ashley C. Ford wrote on Twitter that she worked at Refinery29 “for less than nine months due to a toxic company culture where white women’s egos ruled the near non-existent editorial processes. One of the founders consistently confused myself and one our full-time front desk associates & pay disparity was atrocious.” Ford clarified that while she was not personally underpaid, “it didn’t take long to learn that no other Black woman at the company was making anything close to my salary, while they were being overworked and under-appreciated.”

In a memo to all staff Monday, Vice Media Group CEO Nancy Dubuc said, “We commit to you unequivocally that this search will be an inclusive hiring process with a diverse slate of candidates.”

According to Dubuc, Vice Media Group’s non-white employee base is more than 40% of its headcount, which she claimed is nearly double most other media companies. While “on the whole” the company “is ahead of most media organizations in our commitment to equality,” Dubuc wrote, “there is more work to be done.”

In addition, Dubuc said that she has directed recently hired head of HR Daisy Auger-Domínguez to develop a “systematic overhaul of how we hire, develop and retain a globally diverse workforce” across the company. VMG also will suspend the hiring freeze for “a handful” of senior positions at Refinery29 “for recruitment with a clear focus on bringing in more diversity to the organization” and will form a “listening series” for Vice Media leaders to “better understand the challenges communities of color and other marginalized identities are facing every day.”

After Vice Media closed its acquisition of Refinery29 in November 2019, it said R29 co-CEOs and co-founders Philippe von Borries and Justin Stefano would no longer be involved in day-to-day management.