Shawn Outler

In September 2018, Jeff Gennette, chairman and chief executive officer of Macy’s Inc., reached out to Shawn Outler. He wanted to change her role at the company and impact the image and culture of the venerable department store.

“I was working on the business side when I got that call. He said, ‘I need you to do this. We really want to step out and do things differently in the world of D&I.”

Outler became Macy’s Inc. executive vice president and chief diversity officer, switching from executive vice president over licensed businesses, food services and multicultural initiatives. Earlier, she was a Macy’s divisional merchandise manager.

“Diversity and inclusion [D&I] has been a constantly evolving conversation at Macy’s, but it wasn’t until we launched our vision and mission that we were really able to drive our strategy forward and align as an enterprise,” Outler explained.

“In some areas we were doing some great work for a long time, but we weren’t unified with the vision and lacked actionable goals to hold ourselves accountable. Our vision is to be a beacon of diversity and inclusion for our colleagues, customers and communities. Jeff has been working lock-step with me in terms of this journey.”

Since becoming Macy’s chief diversity officer, there’s been progress analyzing data to set metrics and goals for D&I, as well as in advocacy, and thinking about merchandise differently.

“Our vision is centered on five key areas — customers, marketing, colleagues, suppliers and community,” said Outler. “Each focus area has specific performance objectives in key measurements.

With merchandise, “There are a lot of conversations addressing the LGBTQ community from an intimate apparel perspective. So much is in early stages of what the next level of product looks like. Our merchants are fully immersed in our strategy.”

In March, Macy’s announced D&I goals internally and launched a customer bill of rights. “We are clear that discrimination and profiling will not be tolerated,” said Outler. “We have offered unconscious bias and inclusive leadership training. Ninety-thousand of our colleagues participated.”

Macy’s is seeking to have more of its workforce reflect the “full spectrum of diversity,” Outler said. “We have strong representation at the junior and midlevels. Our opportunity is to increase at the senior director level and above (where) our goal is to achieve 30 percent ethnic diversity by 2020.”

Macy’s has a program to connect ethnically diverse LGBTQ, veterans and women-owned suppliers to opportunities at Macy’s. So far, 125 businesses graduated from the program, and applications are open through Jan. 26.

Ten years ago, Outler created The Workshop at Macy’s, which gives “high potential diverse businesses the tools to succeed in the retail industry,” Outler said. “The program has evolved and now includes veterans and LGBTQ businesses.”

In addition, Macy’s funds community organizations “whose objectives align with our business goals and our values.…Partners such as HRC have helped us navigate how to become better advocates,” said Outler. In October, Macy’s partnered with HRC at the trans career fair in New York.

In the Eighties, Macy’s began supporting LGBTQ causes and HIV/AIDS research and awareness. “We partnered early on with the Elizabeth Taylor Foundation to raise funds and awareness and establish the Macy’s Passport Fashion Show in San Francisco which in its nearly 40 years raised over $30 million to support HIV/AIDS prevention, care and research programs in America,” Outler said. Another $1.5 million was raised through AIDS walks and Macy’s workers have devoted thousands of volunteer hours for the cause.

Much of Macy’s efforts have centered on LGBTQ youth in crisis and working with the Trevor Project which is focused on suicide prevention within the LBGTQ community. One Macy’s campaign spread Trevor’s message to Macy’s stores. “More than six million people nationwide saw Trevor’s important message in our stores,” Outler said. Macy’s also raised $1.5 million to help Trevor to expand its phone and text help lines, and many Macy workers have undergone Trevor’s crisis counseling training and volunteer to help save lives.

Another campaign next year will ask customers to donate change from their Macy purchases to support Trevor. Macy’s also partners with PFLAG to identify initiatives to fund.

In marketing, Macy’s goal is to “consistently and genuinely reflect all of our customers,” said Outler. “The actions we take are authentic and for all whether that’s including in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade a same-sex kiss from Broadway’s “The Prom” or a performance in drag or gender-fluid costumes from “Kinky Boots.”

“We reflect America,” said Outler. “Macy’s was the first national retailer to make a wedding and gift registry gender-neutral in support of marriage equality, and that was back in 2004 when only Massachusetts had marriage equality. Once it came to California, we advertised it in full-page ads in national newspapers and magazines.”

The LGBTQ community, she added, is represented in Macy’s advertising “year-round, not just in June for the Pride celebration. Macy’s is also providing gender neutral shopping experiences and rest room access for all.

“Some of the steps we took over the past year did get some backlash,” said Outler. “I think about the parade and the kiss. Some folks and customers were not pleased with our direction. But it wasn’t hard for us to step back. Jeff and I and the team talked about it. We were very clear about our goals and values and we are sticking to the script.

“Our Q4 holiday campaign is going to be quite diverse. We are committed.”

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