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Women far less likely to be promoted in the fashion industry, according to study

By Marjorie van Elven


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Even though women spend more than triple the amount of money that men do on clothing and form the vast majority of workers in the US fashion industry, they are far less likely to occupy top management positions, according to a new survey of 535 male and female fashion professionals. The study was conducted by Glamour magazine, McKinsey & Company and the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

To illustrate how women form a majority in the fashion industry, look no further than the New York Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), one of the most prestigious fashion schools in the US. 85 percent of students enrolled at FIT in 2016 were female. According to the study, women are full of ambition when graduating from college: female graduates are 17 percent more likely than men to aspire to become top-level executives. However, as they progress into middle and upper management levels, landing a promotion becomes more and more difficult. Only 5 percent of female surveyors said they were promoted without having to ask for it at senior levels, against 18 percent of male surveyors. 71 percent of respondents said they had a female supervisor before reaching upper management level, but that number falls to 52 percent once they get to the next stage. As a result, women’s initial ambition withers: at mid management level, men are 20 percent more likely than women to aspire to be a top executive.

“I was bringing in new clients and doing the work of a senior person, but I did not receive an increase in pay or a promotion”, one of the female surveyors complained. Another one, a female retail executive, recalls hearing a more senior male executive brag about how he got promoted from assistant buyer to a buyer role in less than two years. “He said his boss, who was also a man, liked him and they were planning a holiday together. We [the women] were all sitting around with our mouths open because we’d watched our male peers race up the ranks while women at the company were rarely promoted”.

Men are oblivious to the problem, the study suggests. While all of the female respondents said gender inequality is widespread problem in the fashion industry, only 50 percent of men have said so.

Mothers get passed over for promotions in the fashion industry

Gender norms and stereotypes in relation to parenthood were listed among the main obstacles for female fashion professionals to get ahead in their careers. Half of the female respondents believe motherhood harmed their chances for a promotion. Many of them said they waited, or planned on waiting, to have children until they were in a senior-level position, as they felt they would be otherwise “left behind”. One of the female respondents said a manager told her “this position requires more time than you are able to give”, when she was passed over for a promotion.

The study also quotes a HR manager for a top fashion brand, who admitted the company was more likely to offer jobs to single or older women. “It’s horrible to say, but one of the things we always considered when we were evaluating several candidates for a job offer was whether they were recently married and likely to start having children soon. This never, ever came up with men”


gender gap