In the span of his 30-year career, Coach chief executive officer Joshua Schulman has seen undeniable progress in the acceptance of the LGBTQ community. The executive, who is openly gay, now feels a responsibility to help push things along further.
Schulman had a childhood dream to be the ceo of a department store and led Bergdorf Goodman until 2017 when he joined Coach. “When I was growing up, I didn’t see any department store ceo’s who were gay as role models. Today as a kid in high school, one could see Jeff Gennette at Macy’s, Tim Cook at Apple, Pete Buttigieg running — those are three amazing examples of role models that didn’t exist when I was young,” he said.
According to Schulman, more change is necessary. “In the long arc of history, 30 years isn’t that long of a time, I hope it doesn’t take us another 30 years from now to have role models in positions of power like that who are not necessarily cisgender, white gay men, but who really reflect the full diversity of the LGBTQ community,” he said.
Schulman began his career working for Gucci Group’s Domenico de Sole and Marc Jacobs and Robert Duffy during their short stint at Perry Ellis. Both environments practiced their own culture of acceptance.
“At Perry Ellis…this was the early Nineties and the company had a gay designer and a gay ceo and many gay executives who had died in the years previously. Robert and Marc were a new generation but the hallways were filled with the ghosts of people who came before us. If anything at a very young age I had examples of gay men in the workplace who were running a fashion business and that was very powerful for me,” Schulman said of the experience.
De Sole, by contrast, “encouraged a real meritocracy,” said Schulman, which broke with the convention of European luxury brands hiring from their country of origin. “You saw people from different countries very mobile at the time, and an openness to women in leadership, gay men in leadership positions and otherwise.”
Now at the helm of a large company himself, Schulman says, “At a certain point you take a little bit from different mentors and it becomes your own style and your own priorities.”
Schulman has helped advise Coach’s holding company, Tapestry Inc., on furthering its efforts toward inclusivity. The company earned a score of 100 percent with the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index and was among the first American fashion companies to extend health benefits to LGBTQ employees’ partners. The executive has moderated panels and held conferences at the Coach headquarters to encourage discussion around the topic.
“We are open to all races, all genders, people of all ages and gender expressions should feel welcome in our stores, warehouses, facilities and headquarters,” Schulman said of Coach’s stance on inclusivity. The brand has been hosting inclusivity training for store managers and personnel because, as Schulman feels, “The product development process is a very internal process and stores are public, but the topic of inclusion is incredibly important throughout the company, particularly at both ends of that process.”
“The point is to have a diverse team who feels empowered to speak up during the process so they can say ‘That doesn’t feel right.’ You need to make sure you have the right people around the table,” the executive said.
Coach is updating its stores to reflect a new concept that is “more gender-fluid in its layout,” said Schulman. “There is not a typical men’s and women’s department per say. They are more fluid, particularly ready-to-wear and the shoe room — which are pink. If you put men’s ready-to-wear in a pink showroom 20 years ago [it would have elicited complaints] but we haven’t had one comment about it and now we are rolling it out globally.”