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Fashion has a long way to climb to breach barriers in gender diversity, according to new research from PwC Consulting.

Compared to other industries, even technology and finance are further paced for reflecting gender-balanced leadership than the fashion industry. “Only 12.5 percent of apparel and retail apparel companies in the Fortune 1000 are led by women, compared to some 20 percent in both the utilities as well as aerospace and defense industries. In financial services, close to 18 percent of companies are led by women,” according to the report titled: “Unraveling the Fabric Ceiling.” The report was led by researchers Shannon L. Schuyler, chief purpose officer; Carrie Duarte, workforce of the future leader; and Steven J. Barr, consumer markets leader at PwC.

Related story: The Green-Ceiling: Fashion Needs More Women to Solve Sustainability

The research outlined various paths to success, using insight from female industry experts in telephone and in-person interviews. “You have to advocate for yourself,” said Amy Shecter, chief executive officer of Glamsquad. She also reiterated, “Gender balance is not a matter of excluding men; it’s a matter of including more women. I don’t want them to go 48 percent. I just want it to be 50-50.”

“Weaving a tapestry of inclusion” begins with changes to the workplace culture and leadership. Getting more women on boards may directly impact gender balance at the C-Suite according to Diane Ellis, chief executive officer of DME Advisory Group, director at Stage Stores and former ceo of The Limited. Ellis said, “The more women you get on boards, the more women you’ll get in the c-suite.”

Before that, barriers to advancement include lack of top-level investment in implementing diversity initiatives, an unconscious bias of representation or fewer women in the running, among other reasons. PwC’s apparel industry analysis discovered that “only 25 percent of female ceo’s rose through the ranks while more than double the amount [or 54 percent] of male ceo’s did. Disproportionately, female fashion students are inhibited in their further careers, whereby some “80 percent of students at leading fashion schools are women.”

According to PwC’s 2018 annual corporate directors survey in October 2018, 46 percent of respondents said gender diversity was “very important” on their boards, yet representation is clearly lacking. For change to occur, the fashion industry needs to deconstruct barriers, open dialogue and each company needs to set a precedent for redesigning their workplace cultures to welcome the unique benefits of gender-balanced boards and leadership.

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