To dig deeper into fashion’s representation problem, it’ll take giving both recruiting practices and internal opportunities a closer look.
That’s what a virtual panel of leaders in fashion and retail set out to do Wednesday in a Black History Month talk sponsored by the Fifth Avenue Association. From how companies are changing the way recruitment works to ways in which they’re providing greater opportunities for people of color to succeed and whether momentum has slowed since 2020, the aim of the discussion was to lay in all on the table.
The fashion industry, according to panelist Corey Smith, head of diversity at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, has a history of recruiting from within.
“Louis Vuitton will poach somebody from Gucci. Gucci will poach somebody from L’Oréal…it’s a very insular industry, and one of the things we’ve really had to try to understand, if we want to be more inclusive sometimes that means branching out beyond just this industry,” Smith said.
There are functions within this industry where you don’t have to have prior experience, he said, noting that working in the legal department at LVMH doesn’t require you to have worked in the legal department at Gucci. Opening opportunities to people outside of the industry where it’s easy to do so, could widen the talent pool to help companies with representation.
LVMH put a goal out that it wanted to hire 25,000 career professionals this year, and a huge chunk of that will be the U.S. and Canada. To ensure these new hires aren’t all coming from the same places and same schools, LVMH has implemented initiatives focused on HBCUs (Historically Black colleges and universities), Hispanic Serving Institutions and women’s colleges to tap into markets that were previously untapped.
“I can make the argument that the top 5 percent at any HBCU will rival anybody at an Ivy,” Smith said.
Adding to that, Erica Lovett, head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Cartier, said, “Every company right now is trying to find the best talent. There’s a war on talent, and we know that people are leaving the work force, so for us, it’s certainly a priority.”
The focus at Cartier has also been on expanding its reach beyond the traditional universities and organizations they’ve historically recruited from.
“Luxury has a perception of being very exclusive. In order to change that, we have to do what we haven’t done before. We have to show up to certain communities instead of expecting that talent to come to us,” said Lovett. Cartier will be posting its positions on job boards at HBCUs and organizations that serve underrepresented communities, as well as working with groups like the Black in Fashion Council and high schools that primarily target Black and Brown youth. “We’re trying to target early career and education and creating access to students at a younger age that maybe don’t know that luxury is a viable career for them.”
The mind-set also requires an internal cultural shift, according to Lovett.
“Our approach to recruiting is looking for talent that adds to our culture and doesn’t just fit into our culture,” she said. “That’s been our priority over the past couple of years. Who’s going to bring new perspectives to Corey’s point, people from different industries? What’s different and what’s fresh?” said Lovett.
Taking things a step further, Cartier has prioritized analyzing its end-to-end recruiting process, including how it identifies candidates, who’s on the interview panel and the questions they’re asking, as well as how they deliver feedback and train hiring managers and recruiters.
“It’s a challenge and an opportunity,” Lovett said. “Some of these systemic challenges will take a little bit longer.”
From luxury fashion house June79 founder and creative director Shawn Pean’s perspective, fashion is ripe to get this right.
“Fashion is one of the few industries where you’re going to get a lot of different mind-sets…you’ll find people from so many different backgrounds,” he said. For example, he brought a philosophy major onto their team to discuss consumer behavior in driving their business.
When it comes to the tech space, Instagram creator marketing manager Brooke DeVard Ozaydinli, has advice for those looking for jobs, too.
Students, in particular, should be looking to see where their alumni work and searching job boards at those companies.
“Ask for someone at that company to refer you,” she said. Instagram, she noted, has a program called Meta University, a 10-week internship program to expose students to different areas such as product marketing and product design so they can gain some experience. What’s more, she said, “Use social media to put your talents out there.” If you’re a young designer or a marketer who watches advertising closely and has thoughts on the latest Super Bowl commercials, for example, start putting your voice out there on Instagram, or TikTok or LinkedIn….People in the industry pay attention to that, she said.
Creating Internal Opportunity
In looking at the fashion industry and where it needs to go from here, including ensuring efforts are more than just for optics, companies also have to ensure their existing talent is set up for success and elevation within the organization.
And it will take a level of intentionality, according to Smith. “You have to understand different backgrounds and different experiences and understand different cultures. Not just for education and awareness perspective, but to really understand what they can bring to the table,” he said.
Some LVMH brands implemented performance-based metrics for their leaders, including considerations for how many diverse candidates are included in the interview process, how many are converted to actual hires and, once people are on board, how many are given advancement opportunities and promotions.
In 2021, LVMH set a goal of having 30 percent of its executive team be people of color in the next five years. And reaching that goal will be about action, Smith said. For any open role, the candidate pool must be 30 percent diverse, for one.
“Once you start to interview and get the ball rolling and figure out who your favorites are, it’s too late. Before you even start to interview, you’re going to have to have a diverse slate of candidates,” he said. “That tracks the recruitment process. Internally, 30 percent of the people you’re about to promote need to be diverse as well.”
Learning and development is a value add, Smith said, and before anyone is promoted, they should have diversity training, bias training and cultural agility training.
“You’re about to promote them and they’re about to run a whole team,” he explained. “If they themselves are not agile enough to deal with the diversity of their team, they won’t be successful.”
Training is something Cartier has taken on amidst its DE&I efforts. Under Lovett’s purview, the company launched a training program called “Understanding the Black Experience in America,” with an external partner. Every employee was required to take the four-hour training, from its watch makers to its sales associates to its executive leadership team.
“We just realized that there was a lack of understanding of the Black community, and many cultures across the U.S. and Canada,” she said. “It’s almost hard to even have a conversation with certain people about why we have to over-index when we’re looking for candidates for a certain role. Why do we have to prioritize that 30 percent? They don’t even really understand what it means to be a person of color or a Black person in this country. This learning portion has to be embedded into KPIs. How is your performance being measured? There has to be some sort of inclusion index or some sort of measurement to make sure that when you’re being promoted you’re building a diverse and inclusive team, that you are leading with empathy, and that’s a very important skill to have right now.”
Building Community Engagement
As tech continues to take over, some are looking to the metaverse and Meta as ways to drive community engagement.
“This is a big focus area. They [Meta] understand that a lot of Black creators are driving culture,” said Ozaydinli. She said she’s worked at companies where that’s not necessarily recognized, particularly when she worked in luxury. At Instagram, the focus is on how to make best practices available to everyone. They have @Creators on Instagram, to get tips and tricks, for one, and they’re sponsoring Black creators.
June79’s Pean described how his brand engages with the Black community.
“My team can be considered diverse, how [does] what we do relate to the consumer we’re trying to speak to? It’s important to understand what moves and drives them,” he said. When he launched his brand, Pean said it was important to show the community who they were and what they stood for. “When people see that and understand that, this is a true living business, our personality stands out more so than other brands out there. One of our taglines is ‘Join the Journey.'”
Sephora (owned by LVMH) is one company that has tried to bring Black-owned businesses along for the journey they should have long been a part of. In 2020, Sephora signed the 15 Percent Pledge, which said 15 percent of their shelf space will be dedicated to Black-owned businesses.
“Awesome idea, great headline,” Smith said. First they found great Black-owned brands to bring into the stores, then they had to get those businesses ready for what happens when they become part of Sephora’s pledge. They put the businesses through a program called Accelerate, which gets them financially and operationally ready. “In theory, if this works, your product is going to be flying off the shelves.”
Sephora now has to increase its marketing to the Black and Brown community, said Smith.
“If you don’t increase the foot traffic coming into the store, it’s not going to move off the shelf. No one’s going to buy it,” he said. Fifty percent is signing the pledge to get the brands in the store, the other 50 percent is how do you increase diverse foot traffic in Sephora?”
For one, Sephora ramped up its social media in terms of diverse content by 15 percent, and ramped up marketing for its online store by 15 percent as well.
“It was a full integration of one single mind-set, applied across the entire business, and people responded to it,” Smith said. “If you don’t see yourself reflected in their marketing campaigns or their social media pages, you don’t think this brand is for you….You don’t think it’s for you as a customer, or you don’t think you can work there. So you wouldn’t apply there. So marketing and HR are completely tied together.”
Smith tells all the LVMH brands that if he can go to their Instagram pages and scroll through 10 images and there’s no diverse content, “you still have work you have to do.” Same thing with the website, he said, adding that the customer wants to know where you stand in terms of social justice causes, the environment, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights. “It’s not just where you stand on one issue, but where you stand on multiple issues.”
So have efforts slowed since 2020?
According to Smith, there’s another way of looking at it.
“Twenty-twenty was interesting in that everybody paid attention. It caused a ton of allyship and caused a ton of advocacy from people who weren’t personally impacted by these things for years. For me, what’s important to get out of 2020 was to take all that emotion and gut-wrenching and turn it into business and do it quickly,” he said. “At some time emotion will fade and there will be a new priority. But in that moment, everyone was saying let’s create a goal and metric, let’s create a new process on how we do things….I knew that I could control the process, I could control the operation, I wasn’t going to be able to control people’s emotions.”
For one, it was necessary to factor in that LVMH is a French company, Smith said, and to walk them through American history and why issues of diversity and representation are so critical to address.
“You learn about slavery, which is a paragraph in your history book, all 400 years of it, and then you learn about Martin Luther King which is two sentences. As if there aren’t 100 years between them?” He said he had to educate his European counterparts on that 100 years. “That 100 years is how you arrive at George Floyd. Those were the things that shifted thinking. I had to operationalize how we do that.”
Looking to the future, Pean believes fashion has to get better at seeing people based off of talent and merit.
“One of the things that’s really hard to hear…is there isn’t enough Black talent out there for us to hire these roles,” he said. “That’s one of the craziest things I ever heard, because there’s so much talent out there. The question I usually ask is, ‘Who’s looking for that talent?'”
FOR MORE STORIES: