Essence CEO Steps Down After Anonymous Letter Complaining of ‘Poisonous Culture’

Richelieu Dennis (Credit: YouTube/ Startup Grind Local)

Two days after a group of anonymous Essence staffers posted a letter online complaining of a “poisonous culture” at the magazine, CEO Richelieu Dennis has stepped down.

The magazine released a statement Tuesday night saying Dennis is being replaced by Caroline Wanga, who joined the company on Monday as chief growth officer.

“We shared with our staff earlier today that Caroline Wanga, who joined Essence on June 29 as its new Chief Growth Officer, will step in as interim CEO of Essence Communications, Inc, Essence said in a statement posted on Twitter by news commentator Roland Martin.

The statement added that Wanga will oversee an independent review process. “Out of an abundance of caution and an unwavering commitment to transparency, Essence is in the process of hiring law firms and other independent external experts to assess and review the company’s policies,” the statement said.

While Dennis is no longer CEO, he still owns Essence. The hair care mogul, who was born in Liberia, bought the publication from Time Inc. in 2018.

He had been filling in as CEO since March, when longtime leader Michelle Ebanks left the position.

Related Story: Essence Magazine Responds to Anonymous Letter Decrying ‘Toxic’ Workplace

News of this latest CEO change came after a group of current and former Essence staffers calling themselves “Black Female Anonymous” published a Medium post on Sunday, June 28, alleging that female employees are “systematically suppressed by pay inequity, sexual harassment, corporate bullying, intimidation, colorism and classism” at the fashion and beauty magazine for Black women.

The post accused Dennis of preying on female employees and alleged that he “is driven by greed and a debaucherous sexual appetite.”

Essence issued a statement Monday refuting the claims and called the situation “heartbreaking.”

“Candidly, the last 24 hours have been heartbreaking. At Essence, we uplift the voices of, provide platforms for, and generate opportunities that elevate Black women and communities and have done so for 50 years,” the statement said. “It is the work we have committed ourselves to every single day since we were founded in 1970 and that has been accelerated over our past two years as a 100% Black family-owned company creating opportunities for Black creatives and leaders in an industry that has failed them.”