Fashion has always been a key driver of culture, simultaneously reflecting and steering societal changes. In the summer of 2020, we saw the fashion industry rally together and call for change on diversity and inclusion. To a far greater degree than in other consumer-facing sector, leaders in fashion committed to progress, pledging to include more diverse voices and build more inclusive cultures in their businesses.
Together with the British Fashion Council, we are once again examining whether the fashion industry has followed up its promises with meaningful action.
For the second consecutive year, we have published our report on Diversity and Inclusion in Fashion. Our report holds up a mirror to the industry, asking:
– If fashion companies are adequately prioritising D&I
– If the industry’s leadership teams reflect the communities they serve
– And if companies are dismantling the systems that have led to the underrepresentation of certain groups
Drawing on data from more than 100 companies, and insight from conversations with Founders, Chairs, CEOs, and HRDS, our in-depth analysis found that steps are being taken towards a more inclusive industry, but that there is still much further to go.
Happily, there are more D&I strategies in place than ever before. Today, nearly three-quarters (71%) of companies have coordinated policies to drive up D&I, up from just half last year. What’s more, lots are backed up by budget, underpinned by employee data, and powered by active employee resource groups.
“Today, nearly three-quarters (71%) of companies have coordinated policies to drive up D&I, up from just half last year.”
We’re also seeing leadership teams become steadily more diverse. There’s been a solid increase in the proportion of leadership roles held by women and people from an ethnic minority background, and senior disabled and LGBTQ+ role models are more common that they were last year. Most encouragingly, there are now just as many women as men reporting into the executive committee, suggestive of a strong pipeline of women leaders who can step into executive committee and Board roles in the years to come.
There are, however, many structural barriers still to climb. In fashion, responsibility for D&I typically sits within the HR function, rather than being integrated into the CEO’s core business priorities. D&I is not yet consistently led from the top, and we found little evidence of sufficient support from the non-executive board or executive committee. Until the D&I agenda is owned by the very top decision makers, the industry won’t see the change it so urgently needs.
Historic hiring models are also stalling progress. An over-reliance on talent sourcing from a small number of aspirational brands and schools has created homogenous teams, which have little diversity of thought or variety in socioeconomic backgrounds. Fashion still requires a fundamental cultural reset, and for leaders to embrace new types of candidates who may not fit the typical fashion ‘mould’. Excitingly, many of the leaders we spoke with are well aware of this need, and there are a growing number of best-in-class initiatives in place designed to drive-up social mobility across the entire industry.
“Fashion still requires a fundamental cultural reset, and for leaders to embrace new types of candidates who may not fit the typical fashion ‘mould’.”
Throughout this project, it has been inspiring to speak with leaders who are setting an example for others. The report highlights case studies from Burberry, Capri Holdings, H&M, Lululemon, PVH and VF about how they are rolling out innovative D&I policies – from hosting a D&I Conference at Burberry to setting clear goals and targets at Lululemon.
As the fashion space continues to evolve at a rapid rate, companies need creative ideas that will push boundaries – and the best ideas come from happy, diverse teams who feel supported to speak up and challenge the status quo. Our challenge to leaders therefore is not to lose focus. Putting in place a coordinated strategy is, after all, just the first step.
You can read the full report here – and we’d welcome any thoughts or feedback.