The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) has teamed up with fashion conglomerate PVH Corp to analyze how inclusive and diverse American fashion companies are. In October, the duo gathered 50 top industry executives from 30 companies at a conference to survey them on current practices, and brainstorm ideas to make inclusion and diversity an industry standard, not just buzzwords. The results are now unveiled in a report titled Insider/Outsider. FashionUnited shares the main takeaways from the document.
"Diversity” and “inclusion” are two different things
CFDA and PVH Corp noticed participants often used the words “diversity” and “inclusion” interchangeably, as if the mere presence of women, racial minorities and members of the LGBTQ community meant a company is inclusive. Actually, “diversity” is simply a measure of how representative the workforce is of existing societal groups, while “inclusion” means fostering a company culture in which everyone feels that they belong in the group and their contributions matter.
According to the report, fashion businesses have to watch out for the existence of “established” and “outsider” groups within the company, and the unconscious bias feeding the power dynamics between them. Are everyone’s contributions valued and heard? When something goes wrong, do some groups get the benefit of the doubt while others are assumed to have made a mistake? Who occupies the top management positions?
“It’s important that we not only talk about those values, but live them, support them in others and evolve with them as the face of the world changes”, said PVH Corp’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Dave Kozel, in the report. Erica Lovett, Manager of Inclusion & Community at Condé Nast, added: “until fashion leaders across all categories become more diverse, we will continue to only progress at the surface level”.
The fashion industry knows it still has a long way to go
When asked to choose three words they associate with the state of diversity in the fashion industry, most participants said “just getting started”. As for inclusion, responses included words like “unaware”, “misunderstood”, “incalculable”, “mixed” and “not enough yet”.
The way they perceive the businesses they work for is no different. The executives were asked to rate their organizations on diversity and inclusion. The average result for both was 3 out of a possible 5. Additionally, 62 percent of respondents rated their company’s level of commitment to an inclusive workplace as 3 out of 5.
“Although the rate has been slow, I can still appreciate the fashion industry’s acknowledgement for change and the necessity of inclusion. I have been seeing a more diverse range of people behind the scenes and within positions of power”, said Shanel Campbell, womenswear designer, another participant in the conference.
“We recognize that there is still a lot of work to do to make the fashion industry more diverse and inclusive. This means not shying away from difficult discussions and recognizing historical and ongoing imbalances in terms of who is seen, heard, and designed for”, noted Jason Kass, Associate Dean at the School of Fashion, Parsons School of Design.
Inclusion training is key to achieve real change
Of the 50 managers surveyed, 56 percent reported to have taken a class or workshop related to inclusion and diversity in the workplace. The report recommends for these trainings to be offered to more individuals across all levels, as overcoming unconscious biases “is an acquired skill”.
At the organizational level, policies should be adopted to guarantee that individuals are hired and rewarded based on individual merits rather than leadership affinities and social connections.
Diverse companies are more innovative
Many participants said that, although moral and ethical reasons should be a strong enough reason to promote inclusion and diversity, C-suite executives and shareholders also need business motivators to take action. “But doing the right thing and being business-minded do not have to be mutually exclusive”, reads the report, emphasizing that studies by McKinsey & Company from 2015 and 2018 found that organizations with a high level of racial and ethnic diversity in their senior management ranks were 33-35 percent more likely to be innovative and thus perform better than their peers. Another study by Columbia Business School revealed that multicultural teams help the fashion business, as exposure to different cultures has positive effects on the creative process.