Pull Up For Change: 18 Months After The Viral Campaign, Its Creator Wants More

Sharon Chuter’s call for beauty companies to deliver real-time transparency about their leadership diversity in June of 2020 revealed a disturbing lack of POC representation. Now, over a year later, Chuter’s mission has evolved into something even more important.
Back in 2015, Sharon Chuter had it all: the woman who had moved from Nigeria to Australia to conquer the beauty industry found herself firmly installed in the elusive C-suite, living out her dream — driving expensive cars from her high-flying corporate job back to her multi-million dollar house with her husband. But it turned out that the dream was just a carefully curated façade. 
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“You get obsessed with getting there – with breaking the proverbial glass ceiling, with that tunnel vision,” says Chuter. “I didn’t know any better, because all I knew was that I wanted to break the glass ceiling.” 
“I want to be rich, because if I’m rich I’ll get the respect. I want to have the job title, maybe now I’ll get the respect. Maybe if I had that big house… if I was draped in diamonds, maybe I wouldn’t get profiled in a store, and people wouldn’t think I’m garbage, you know? And all of this ‘maybe I, maybe I’ made me realise there was no problem with me, there was a problem with the world around me. And that became a personal vendetta to fix that,” she reflects.
Fast forward to 2020, and the world was grappling with a global viral outbreak, which fractured communities, threw economies into chaos, and drove everyone indoors. As our phones become the main link to the outside world, social media was busier than ever, providing updated news by the second. 
A video of African American man George Floyd, a Minneapolis security guard murdered by a police officer for the use of an alleged counterfeit bill, went viral. Protests erupted both locally and globally, reinvigorating the Black Lives Matter movement — a movement focused on protesting police brutality and racially motivated violence against black people.
During the protests, many beauty companies jumped on board the Black Lives Matter movement, posting a black square on their social media pages for #BlackoutTuesday, in an attempt to throw support behind what had now become one of the largest movements in America’s history. Criticism swiftly followed; were these companies genuinely interested in supporting the cause, or was it simply a marketing stunt in order to generate goodwill and drive social engagement?
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Chuter, having launched her own inclusive beauty brand UOMA a year earlier (with 51 shades of foundation in her initial release), saw the opportunity to shine a light on the internal mechanisms of an industry she had worked so long to fight her way up in, but had ultimately decided to leave.
“The reason I could not stay anymore in the system, was that we all benefit from a world that is diverse,” Chuter tells Refinery29 Australia. “Economically, physically, spiritually — every single way, we benefit. And the era of single people benefiting from it, and as such, holding the whole of humanity backwards, is over. And it’s all of our responsibility to usher in that new world – not just the responsibility of the marginalised.”
Chuter says that she found that there was often a strong pushback when it came to talking about social issues — and such discussions were often sidelined by the assertion that beauty wasn’t the place for a serious discussion about race, because ‘beauty is an escape’.
This goes some way toward explaining why posting a single black square was the perfect foray into activism for many big beauty companies. Posting a simple, black square on Instagram required no real, concrete change, nor transparency about diversity within their own ranks — and perhaps, most importantly, no risk to their multi-million-dollar marketing plans.
“When I started looking at my industry, how monolithic it was… The problem is not the products that are going out, the problem is the people,” says Chuter. “Look inside this organisation and ask them: who are making these products? How can you be expecting someone to fix a problem they don’t understand? How can you have a team that looks a single way, and wonder why they’re only creating products to fix a single problem? To fix the world outside, we have to fix the world inside. Corporations are like computers… whatever you throw in is what you’re going to get out.”
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As Black Lives Matter spread across social media, Chuter saw the opportunity to cut through the woke-washing and incite real change within the beauty industry. Her idea, a campaign rooted in transparency and accountability, made the hashtag #pulluporshutup into a viral sensation, deploying consumers as activists and recruiting them to help pressure their favourite companies into disclosing the true diversity makeup of their leadership team.

Everyone thinks, ‘oh, the Jim Crow era ended segregation’. No. Segregation left the law and became almost like this embedded thing, a metamorphosis into society in a very subtle way. And it started with ‘I don’t see colour’.

SHARON CHUTER
Her first post went live on 3 June 2020. By 7 June, huge beauty companies like Revlon, Glossier, L’Oreal USA, and Ulta had answered the call for diversity transparency, disclosing the percentage of POC in their leadership and wider teams. But less than a week later, Chuter was already looking at the bigger picture.
She launched a new angle: call out the biggest brands in the world, and ask them to deliver their diversity stats within 72 hours of being tagged. Clothing giants like Nike, Adidas, Levi’s and Gap were targeted, along with tech behemoths Amazon, Google, Apple, Uber and Microsoft. Some answered the call, and some chose to stay ominously silent on the matter.
“To dismantle the system, you’ve got to get to the ‘Don’,” Chuter explains, likening her quest to hit C-suite diversity to working your way up through the mob to the powerful head of the family. “As we start looking for long-term solutions, one of the things we must look at is economic participation as a key solution for the problem — and the problem we have today is segregation.
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“Everyone thinks, ‘oh, the Jim Crow era ended segregation’. No. Segregation left the law and became almost like this embedded thing, a metamorphosis into society in a very subtle way. And it started with ‘I don’t see colour’.”
The invisibility of inequality within the workplace is the problem here, Chuter tells me — and transparency and true accountability is the answer. How do you fight against invisible prejudice, when modern employment laws supposedly prevent such things from happening? How do you prove that you’ve been rejected from every job based on the colour of your skin, rather than your supposed ‘unsuitability’ for the role?
That’s where Pull Up For Change nailed it: it became impossible to deny racially motivated hiring practices when every single major company listed had significantly less POC representation in their leadership team. 
But in the end, it’s one thing to launch a campaign that goes viral – and hang your hat on that social success — and quite another to interrogate whether it actually inspired real change. When I ask Chuter about the results of her campaign, she’s refreshingly honest about the challenges of going head-to-head with not one global conglomerate, but several. 
“When you say ‘pull up’, is pull up releasing their data voluntarily? If that’s the case then yes, there have been some brands like Milk Makeup, Urban Skin RX,” she says. “There are quite a few brands that, without us prompting, have voluntarily released their information.”

Since launching #pulluporshutup, Chuter has effectively put her money where her hashtag is, launching Make It Black, a charity that partners with brands to deliver all-black branded product lines, with 100% of the net proceeds delivering grants to black businesses.

Milk Makeup is a great example of the potential for Chuter’s campaign to drive real change within the corporate beauty realm. After ‘pulling up’ early in the campaign, revealing a diversity breakdown of their 45-strong team, Milk provided an update six months later, saying it had “created a more diverse and inclusive hiring and interview practice resulting in the hiring of 4 additional individuals who identify as BIPOC.”
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Chuter also worked with BFA Industries, one of the largest beauty subscription companies in the world, to help it implement change within its own corporate environment.
Refinery29 Australia spoke to Jenna Habayeb, Chief Brand Officer of BFA Industries, where the brand pointed to multiple successes as a direct result of the campaign.
“We’ve been incredibly fortunate to partner with Sharon, not only as a brand founder, but also as our BFA Advisor,” says Habayeb. “She has given us such incredible guidance and input on our commitments and hiring practices. As part of this, we are now reporting our numbers annually, have instituted a mandatory unconscious bias training for all employees, and have brought a well-recognized DEI leader, Suzanne McGovern, as Chief People Officer to drive accountability through all of our people practices.”

“We are incredibly proud of the progress that we’ve made in such a short amount of time. We’ve invested over $20M in 32 Black-owned brands across IPSY and BoxyCharm in 2021 alone, and have already committed to investing an additional $25M in Black and Latinx-owned brands in 2022.”
However, not all the companies that Chuter pressed for change were quite as receptive.
“We’ve had [conversations with] brands, from the Chief Diversity Officers of L'Oréal to brands like Morphe… A lot of those brands that come in, I work with them, and some of them will come once and never talk to you again. I’m not going to mention them by name. But we are always open.”
“I would say my campaign created awareness for consumers. It created awareness for consumers to hold brands accountable. That has been the power of Pull Up For Change. For the brands themselves, at the end of the day, it varies. Only time will tell because a lot of brands have done that, and then dropped it off and moved to other business ‘priorities’.”
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Regardless of whether some of these companies simply paid lip service under the weight of pressure from the campaign, it nonetheless forced them to look beyond the black square and into their own, very real systemic issues. It was an incredibly powerful idea, spearheaded by a drive for real change that wasn’t performative. But Chuter didn’t want to stop there. She may have created an incredibly successful viral social campaign, but instead looked to turn it into a legitimate social movement.

A diversity leader is only useful when you allow them to do their job, which is not what we’re finding… The only way we’re going to see change is if they stop being performative.

Sharon chuter
Since launching #pulluporshutup, Chuter has effectively put her money where her hashtag is, launching Make It Black, a charity that partners with brands to deliver all-black branded product lines, with 100% of the net proceeds delivering grants to black businesses to help them thrive in the marketplace. 
In 2021 alone, Chuter tells me that Make It Black partnerships raised US$400,000, which they deployed to eight founders. She's aiming for even greater heights in 2022, hoping to hit the US$1 million dollar mark.
Make It Black delivers an important distinction — that it’s one thing to push for equality within large companies, who are likely only taking action because they’ve been forced to, and it’s quite another to help drive success for black-owned businesses.
“A diversity leader is only useful when you allow them to do their job, which is not what we’re finding… The only way we’re going to see change is if they stop being performative,” Chuter says. “Companies are great at just doing whatever they need to get the highest score in the shortest amount of time.”
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“[Make It Black] is meaningful work, because yes, we’re holding people accountable, but we also have to be part of the solution. We all have a role to play… I’m looking forward to doing things that I have direct control of. I can keep chasing L’Oreal to hire more people, or I can empower black businesses and marginalised businesses, who are the ones who hire marginalised people.”
So what’s next for Chuter? Does she consolidate her wins, and continue her work with Make It Black, celebrating her success while reflecting on her significant track record of holding companies accountable for their diversity quotas?
Of course not. When we talk about where Pull Up For Change goes from here, Chuter is as astute as ever.
“There will never be a ‘going back’, because we’ve seen it," she says. "Companies that are hiding and being squirmish or whatever, firstly when I have energy for you, I’m going to come back and I’m going to do it again — when you’re not expecting it is when I’m going to do it.”

I need to allow enough time to pass, so you don’t have the excuse of ‘we’re working on it, we didn’t have time’… give them the time to do the right thing, and then you come back hard again.

sharon chuter
“We are going to launch a massive campaign, probably around 2023, which is 3 years after the original ‘pull up’. And I think that’s enough time to come back with a massive campaign to really get the scorecard — to see all the promises that were made and the results, because three years is a long time.”
“I need to allow enough time to pass, so you don’t have the excuse of ‘we’re working on it, we didn’t have time’… give them the time to do the right thing, and then you come back hard again, and go ‘hey, it’s been three years. What has been your progress?’”
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For Chuter, the movement isn’t really about the corporate world anymore — now, it’s personal. After all, her motivation originally arose from something much more important: decades-old, systematic oppression leading to an epidemic of police violence, one of the results of which was a slow, deliberate murder in broad daylight.
Ultimately — although very much belatedly — that single action reverberated across the entire world, with millions adamantly declaring, enough is enough. And, as Chuter shrewdly highlighted at the time, a corporate-sponsored black square wasn’t enough either.
“We have to create not just equality, but we have to create equity. And until we create equity, we’re not going to reach equality… multiple voices are going to make us, as a civilisation, stronger and more prosperous.
"Because we thrive in diversity — we thrive with multiple ideas… We will never achieve that peace that we’re looking for until we can give people the opportunity to be whoever they want to be regardless of the colour of their skin.”
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