It’s more than 6 months now that the ‘murder’ of George Floyd shocked the US and Black Lives Matter movement was highlighted across the globe. Just a few days back, in London, Lord Meghnad Desai, an Indian-origin economist, author and peer resigned as a member of the UK’s opposition Labour Party over its failure to effectively tackle anti-Semitic racism within its ranks. Right from the colonial era, racism is there in the US and similar discrimination is found in several forms in various countries.
However, the appreciable aspect in this scenario is that importance of diversity, racial equity, social justice and fostering a more inclusive environment for all is growing rapidly now. Especially leading international apparel brands and retailers are ensuring that they have the right practices in place to attract and retain a workforce that is as diverse as the communities where they live in and work. They are strengthening their inclusion and diversity teams/departments and have started releasing full-fledged reports in this regard. Investing in these practices is more than just a business strategy for them.
Just a few days back, 12-year-old European company Zalando released its first report on diversity and inclusion that insisted to see inclusion and diversity as an opportunity rather than a challenge.
Similarly, 123-year-old US-based VF Corp. (having brands like including Vans®, The North Face®, Timberland® and Dickies®) came up with the second edition of its annual profile 2020 on inclusion and diversity.
The list of brands taking such kinds of initiatives is long. Brands are trying to cultivate an inclusive environment where everyone feels safe, is valued and has a sense of belonging, and knows unequivocally that their contributions are welcome and needed. For most of them, the focus is on global inclusion and diversity, inside as well as outside their companies.
The brands are striving to build and maintain a highly inclusive culture that celebrates as they have well realised the impact inclusion and diversity have on their business. After all, they know that it will have the greatest impact on their associates, consumers and the local communities. With such recognition, their teams get more motivated and are able to deliver their best. At the same time, efforts in this direction are getting due recognition by Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, Diversity Inc Top 50 Companies for Diversity and several other organisations.
To execute properly the spirit of inclusion and diversity, every brand’s efforts start right from new hiring and continues to ensure that top-level management has enough and a good combination of professionals across different genders, colours, etc. They maximise workforce diversity by establishing inclusion and diversity as a leadership competency; with this, they are nurturing a culture of workplace inclusion and have the vision to win in the multicultural marketplace.
For example, VF Corp. has leveraged its global inclusion and diversity strategy as a thoughtful roadmap to guide the daily actions of its nearly 50,000 associates worldwide over the past 12 months. It is evolving its efforts into a 10-year strategy that will further advance its commitment to diversity. This new journey will rebrand VF’s inclusion and diversity strategy to align with its free to be purpose territory.
“VF has accelerated focus on inclusion and diversity in recent years, both inside and outside our company, and we’re committed to maintaining the strong momentum we’ve created,” said Anita Graham, VF’s Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer.
Levi Strauss & Co. also has 57 per cent women across its global workforce and its US workforce population has a good mix of race/ethnicity, be it white, Latin, Black/African American/Asian, etc. Since 2018, its diversity, inclusion and belonging strategy have focused on creating an inclusive culture, furthering women in leadership, ensuring pay equity and recruiting diverse candidates.
The denim giant is committed to establishing a candidate pool for open positions that include 50 per cent minorities. It will follow through on this by continuing its partnership with historically black colleges and universities and diverse campus organisations.
“We pride ourselves on being a progressive company that takes bold stances to promote equity, justice and inclusivity all around the world, but we must ensure that we live these same principles within our organisation to be our very best,” the company believes.
Their various team members of brands are also associated with bodies like APAC (Asia-Pacific), Inclusion & Diversity Council (AIDC) and through such bodies they easily thrive on their targets concerning diversity.
Brands’ teams have even developed programmes and events to celebrate differences and similarities so that team members can gain a deeper understanding of each other. They organise training for leadership teams; that is how different backgrounds, personal experiences and cultural context can affect our actions without our ever realising it. Events promoting inclusion and diversity are also being encouraged by the brands.
Various workshops on such issues are regular exercise for the brands. Their team members pledge to promote inclusion and diversity in their workplace via small, yet impactful behaviour shifts. Their Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for women, people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community etc., are continuing to serve as a community that champions differences. They consistently strive to bridge pay gaps in all their employee markets.
Not only such activities, but also the impression of their efforts reflects in brand’s collections like Napapijri® expressed its commitment to fostering a culture of belonging by casting a diverse group of models in its S/S ’19 campaign.
These and a few other initiatives of the companies are helping them to meet their expectations and targets as well. For example, Levi Strauss & Co. believes that some of its key achievements include building out diversity, inclusion and belonging function, standing up for ERGs and implementing programmes to empower women, people of colour and other under-represented populations.
Another important aspect to mention here is the immediate action of brands like Ralph Lauren, which were having a strong focus on such issues from long back and just after 3 days of the death of George Floyd, the brand called its employees in 64 countries and managers were guided with training sessions in advance to respond empathetically and to listen rather than speak.
French luxury group Kering has a target to achieve pay equality as well as job parity at every level by 2025.
Brands are also learning from their mistakes and delivering goods too. This year in July, Karen Parkin, Head- HR, adidas, resigned over comments she reportedly made at an adidas meeting last year. This development was the result of a protest by staff of the company who had called for an investigation into her handling of racism, diversity and inclusion. Parkin reportedly used the term ‘noise’ at a meeting for employees when referring to the issue of racism. She worked for adidas for 23 years and said that she left the company ‘to unify the organisation’.
Almost 2 years ago, H&M featured a black child wearing a sweatshirt that read ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’. Now it claims to make a more concerted effort to put diversity, equity and inclusion. The brand hired Ezinne Kwubiri as the North America Head of Inclusion and Diversity and she has become an agent for change at the company by taking some good initiatives.
Looking at the overall scenario and criticalities of this issue, brands are well aware that they need to do even more. They vow to hire, support, promote and elevate more people of colour as this is a business and moral imperative. As Rubin Ritter, Co-CEO, Zalando said, “We strive to foster a diverse and inclusive company culture because we are convinced that it will make us a more successful business in the long term. Transformation takes time. We are still at the beginning but our progress indicates that we are moving in the right direction.”