Throughout the second half of 2020, in the wake of a renewed Black Lives Matter movement, fashion companies said they were committing to addressing racial equality within their ranks. Following through will be the hard part.
Companies reviewing their 2021 diversity agendas should set specific hiring and retention goals, draw up policies to provide feedback and career progression plans, track equity in pay and promotions, and invest in staff and designers who are Black and people of color, experts said.
At the same time, it’s unclear how far companies will invest in the resources to do so, amid a depressed economy and existential challenges for apparel retail as the pandemic continues, said Patrick McKay, professor of human resource management at Temple University’s Fox School of Business. Though the cause of equality and fairness should be self-evident, fashion’s traditionally white establishment and its leadership have tended not to prioritize diversity efforts that they haven’t viewed as affecting or benefiting them personally, he said.
“For the folks that would be stewards over this [effort], is there enough at stake in it for them to care? I don’t know if there would be an affirmative answer right now,” he said. “Historically, if you look at organizational downturns, you do see this tightening of belts. So you doubt you’re going to see a lot of fighting for rights, when [companies] are basically fighting for survival.”
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Recently, some companies have sought to show they intend to set goals in this area and track progress. Target Corp., for instance, said in its 2020 Corporate Responsibility Report it has formed a committee to address equity efforts within the company and outside of it.
“We’ve formed a REACH Committee that will listen to — and work with — our Black team members, guests, community leaders and industry partners to help guide Target in taking bold, intentional and transparent actions toward being a company that helps drive social justice,” the company said in its report. “The committee will set specific, measurable goals to define success across this work and regularly report on our progress.”
Nordstrom Inc. has said roughly 60 percent of its 60,000 employees “identify as nonwhite” and that it has three Black directors on its 11-member board. The company also set some targets for improvement, saying that, by 2025, it plans to increase the “representation of Black and Latinx populations in people-manager roles by at least 50 percent.”
Such moves are critical in making substantial progress in an industry where the makeup of its leadership ranks has looked largely stagnant despite assurances to the contrary, said Shawn Grain Carter, associate professor of fashion business management at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
“We need to be more consistent in terms of measurable goals and accountability for how we address fashion,” she said.
“Not just in terms of supply and demand from a retail manufacturing point of view, but also in terms of media,” she said. “We are not consistent in the messaging, in terms of our brand messaging, in terms of our visual messaging.”
Another part of the equation is for the fashion establishment and investors to support Black creatives and talent and the community at large, she said. In response to pressure from employees last year, Adidas had agreed to invest $20 million over the next few years in programs to support Black talent, including its Adidas School for Experiential Education in Design, which the company said “creates career paths in footwear design.”
The handful of efforts at financial investment and setting of targets should serve as models for what should become a more widespread practice in the industry to make more concrete progress, and more quickly, said FIT’s Carter.
“It is very difficult for Black designers…to have access to capital, [but] that’s what helps the brand grow,” she said.
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