The Fragrance Foundation reinforced its diversity efforts with a virtual event.
On Wednesday, The Fragrance Foundation offered its first diversity, equity and inclusion webinar, called Industry Perspectives on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Helen Shelton, global chief diversity and inclusion officer of Finn Partners, moderated the panel.
Speakers included Chris Collins, founder, World of Chris Collins; Corey Smith, head of diversity and inclusion, North America, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton; Rob Smith, chief executive officer and founder, The Phluid Project, and Linda Song, senior perfumer, Givaudan.
In his opening remarks for the webinar, Jerry Vittoria, president of fine fragrance at Firmenich and chairman at The Fragrance Foundation, doubled down on the organization’s efforts. “Our definition of diversity goes beyond gender into all contexts in which people may identify themselves as a minority group,” he said. “In order to drive diversity, inclusion and belonging in our industry, we are all committing to high goals. Not only are these goals the right thing to do, but these initiatives are sure to benefit our bottom line.”
The foundation’s president, Linda Levy, said fostering conversation was among the tenets of the organization’s diversity philosophy moving forward. “#FragranceForwardTFF is our DE&I headline for multiple elements. We are providing a sustainable platform for the industry to share ideas and perspectives,” Levy said. “We are creating access for historically excluded communities. Our goal is to foster a fully inclusive industry that represents the world that we serve.”
The event’s four panelists showcased an array of viewpoints on various subjects, ranging from career obstacles to their own trajectories.
“My career started with an obsession for fragrance,” Collins said. “It wasn’t going to be easy because a lot of people in the industry didn’t look like me. I took this as an opportunity, and an obsession turned into a business.”
To that end, Collins’ business has fared well, although he added he thinks success would’ve come more readily in a more inclusive landscape. “I’m already an anomaly because most men or women in perfume are white or European,” he said. “I feel like I have to work twice as hard in order to be respected.”
Song agreed, noting that room for improvement is just as systemic as it is personal. “Having white, European males as leaders means we tend to mostly hire and promote white European males,” she said. “Our industry has a lot of room for improvement, most importantly in pay equity.”
Gender was also a focus for Rob Smith, who founded the first gender-free retail storefront, which he said was the merging of “my passion for social justice with retail experience,” including at Macy’s Inc.
Smith posited that while talking to consumers about social justice, having a reflective internal culture was the best way to build trust. “Change doesn’t just happen with allyship, it happens with advocacy, and real change happens with activism,” he said. “When it comes to action, people go straight to marketing. But that means nothing if that doesn’t start with the intention and doing the work inside, educating your team. A lot of folks are afraid to cross over because they’re afraid they haven’t done that work.”
Similarly, Corey Smith placed the onus on fellow employees and organization leaders. “It’s not charity, it’s not equity — you have to educate yourself,” he said. “You have to be an active listener for what the needs of a community are. To leverage your privilege, you have to know what you’re leveraging and the tangible results you want on the other side.”
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