The Disappointing (But Not Surprising) Diversity Levels of Corporate Fashion and Beauty Brands

The Instagram account @pullupforchange gave brands a challenge on June 3, 2020. It demanded they release the number of Black employees at their corporate and executive levels within three days to expose which brands weren’t actually living up to their anti-racism claims and declared support of the Black community in the midst of recent protests. The campaign also challenged consumers to boycott those brands until they released their numbers. So far, many companies have “pulled up,” like beauty brands L’Oréal, Glossier and Revlon who released their startlingly low numbers. Women’s Wear Daily also revealed the abysmal numbers from some of the top companies in the world, including LVMH and Chanel in the article “Diversity in Beauty’s C-Suite.”

The campaign stems from the bigger issue of the fact that Black people make up only 8% of the white-collar workforce and only 3% are in executive or senior management level roles. This is a chance for brands to take responsibility for how they may have contributed to this issue and correct it by implementing changes that last long-term. 

Why This is Not Surprising

For many in the Black community, these numbers confirmed something we already knew. The fact that we are not well-represented in the highest levels of business and do not receive compensation when brands co-opt the style or ideas of Black culture. We do not receive a seat at the table even when Black spending power demands we be heard.

Take the debacle with Gucci and the infamous blackface sweater. The black sweater featured a collar that when folded up covers the lower face and outlines the mouth in bright red lips, resembling a racist caricature of minstrel performances. It’s shocking (but not surprising) how this blatantly racist product emblematic of a not-too-distant past was even a thought. The larger problem is this product was deemed acceptable at every level—from the designers to the marketing team to executive leaders—before it was released to the public. Expanding diversity efforts to hear from Black voices or encouraging a company culture that empowers employees to speak up when something is clearly wrong may have saved Gucci from cultural insensitivity not to mention wasted time and money. 

Amidst controversy, Gucci did take steps to remedy the situation. The brand hired a global head of diversity, equity and inclusion, pledged to expand diversity hiring, and gathered legendary designer Dapper Dan and community leaders to hear their perspectives and foster diversity and inclusion at the company. Accountability and action are necessary steps to fix the greater issue of representation in the workforce and corporate sphere. Of course, this is an industry-wide problem that must be remedied, not just within Gucci. Think of H&M’s monkey sweatshirt or Prada’s monkey figure keychains…the list goes on. 

How #pullupforchange Can Make a Real Impact

Already, the campaign has inspired real change. Numerous brands have “pulled up” their numbers and have committed to make internal changes that strive for long-term diversity and inclusion, notably from L’Oréal and Glossier. The initiative has demanded brands be held accountable and challenged them to practice what they preach because some may be jumping on the bandwagon of a trending hashtag while hindering representation within their ranks. 

For the people in the back—diversity is not merely a trend, a hashtag or a quota to fill. It should reach all echelons of a business, especially in the c-suite, to provide fresh perspectives leading to better decision-making and greater innovation for products and services. In fact, companies with more diverse executive boards tend to outperform competitors, according to a study by management consultant firm McKinsey & Company.

No longer should companies be able to get away with gross underrepresentation and blatant missteps without enacting a concrete strategy to take responsibility. Automated apologies and promises ring hollow without action to help correct the bigger issue. It is time to be better and do better.

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