NEW YORK — The retail industry has come far in terms of diversity, but there’s still a long way to go.
That was the sentiment at the Black Retail Action Group’s gala at the New York Hilton on Monday.
The organization feted its 44th year with the fund-raiser, which awarded 31 students with scholarships and honored five individuals, who included Edward Enninful, fashion and style director at W Magazine; Shawuan Johnson, senior vice president of women’s apparel and accessories at Tommy Hilfiger, and Boris Kodjoe, Patrick Kodjoe, and James G. Brown Jr., founders of the custom-tailored clothing brand, ALFA.
Enninful was unable to attend because he was traveling, but model Alak Deng and W Magazine’s market and accessories director Karla Martinez accepted on his behalf.
According to the organization’s president, Gail Monroe-Perry, the retail industry’s record on diversity has gotten better compared with past years but still has room for improvement.
“Yes, some people are in senior positions, but if you look at the entire scope, the representation isn’t there,” said Monroe-Perry.
“I do think companies care about diversity, but they just don’t know how to go about it. We have the talent who get in the doors, but somewhere along the lines is that middle area they can’t penetrate and elevate to the next level.”
When asked what was necessary for this to change, Monroe-Perry said “more conversations need to be had.”
Johnson, who was an intern 18 years ago at BRAG, echoed that sentiment. The executive at Tommy Hilfiger said there were many hurdles she faced in her own career as a minority.
“You go into a room and you’re the only brown face — I took it as a challenge to stand out in the right way,” she said. “But I always made sure that they weren’t just seeing me for face value. As a minority I had it at the back of my head that I was different, but I used it to my advantage in some way. I think I never took anything for granted and that’s a minority mentality that in so many ways propelled me because it pushed me.”
The night showed that they practiced what they preached. A scholarship recipient, James Supreme, 21, said his internship with Macy’s Inc. this summer propelled him to want to pursue retail business.
“It opened my eyes to wanting to open my own boutique one day,” the senior at Georgia State University said. The BRAG program provided a discounted apartment for him as well as hourly pay from the retailer.
“Because of this preparation, I was offered another internship for next year, and I feel I am set up for my future.”