MILAN — “You shouldn’t be always nice and kind, get mad!” is the imperative Brazilian transgender model and activist Lea T commanded from the stage of Milan’s Teatro Gerolamo venue to wrap up the “Including Diversity” talk that was held Tuesday.
As reported, the event was hosted by the Camera Nazionale della Moda to officially introduce its manifesto for diversity and inclusivity in the fashion industry. To complement the launch of the document and its 10 guidelines, guests were invited to discuss the topics and share their personal experiences, spotlighting the need of a cultural shift and a more open approach in fashion.
A panel that brought together representatives from Kering-owned companies Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Pomellato and Kering Eyewear presented a study the French group assembled about gender gaps and women’s role in Italy’s fashion supply chain.
The report hinged on four areas: women’s working conditions and economic opportunities; their access to leadership and career advancement; their role as mothers, and inappropriate behavior in the workspace.
Kering Eyewear’s global head of supply chain Barbara Lissi spotlighted the issue of gender pay gaps and said that, according to the research, women cover a limited number of roles in factories despite their high education levels. “In the eyewear category, women are mainly employed for quality check and finishing tasks, which are considered delicate, physical roles and grant low salaries,” said Lissi, who stressed how the pay gap talk is still seen as a taboo.
In particular, the document states that women represent 70 percent of the total workforce but they mostly occupy operational roles, as only 25 percent of them cover management positions.
Pomellato’s chief operating officer Rossella Ceruti underscored how 59 percent of the women interviewed believe there’s discrimination in the promotion processes and highlighted how companies lack training programs that could efficiently sustain their professional growth.
“This is also due to a lack of means and investments as most Italian companies are small and middle-sized ones,” noted Ceruti. Conversely, Pomellato seized the opportunity as it focuses on empowering women via training programs. “The ultimate goal is to enable women to inspire other women to make career jumps. Not everybody aims to be a ceo but each of them wants to feel empowered on a daily basis and having other women successfully doing that, can inspire them,” she said.
Yet, according to the study, 43 percent of women tend to stigmatize fellow female colleagues in positions of leadership and many lack self-confidence or appear not sufficiently ambitious to take over more responsibilities, also because of their central roles in the family environment.
“Maternity is seen as an obstacle to a woman’s career. It is seen more as a difficulty to manage for a company and, consequentially, women tend to not ask for more relevant but often time-consuming tasks,” echoed Bottega Veneta’s sustainability manager Baptiste Cassan-Barnel.
“This approach has for sure cultural roots but there are also concrete solutions that a company can adopt,” he continued, mentioning the formalization of the abilities a woman develops during pregnancy, such as stress management or improved organizational skills.
Cassan-Barnel also highlighted how women would be keener to return to their jobs if their parental responsibilities were shared with their male partners, implying that companies should further promote paternal leaves. But the research shows men demonstrate scarce interest for available parental leave options, leaving 87 percent of women suffering from the burden of domestic and family care responsibilities.
“We have the chance to create a new trend and influence society, making more appealing a standard in which fathers take care of their families,” concluded Cassan-Barnel.
Gucci’s head of corporate sustainability and responsibility Rossella Ravagli focused on the low awareness surrounding what constitutes harassment and inappropriate behavior in a working environment.
“This lack of awareness implies there’s a high tolerance for such behaviors, a likewise lack of appropriate tools to identify them and an ultimate lack of trust and confidence in speaking up and voicing opinions and concerns,” noted Ravagli, who appealed to companies to be guarantors of respectful workspaces.
“Education, training and monitoring across all the supply chain are key to elevate the level of awareness around these topics,” she said.
In conversation with Vogue Italia’s editor in chief Emanuele Farneti, Lea T retraced the difficulties linked to receiving hate speeches, being accepted by society, her transition and the key role Riccardo Tisci played in her life.
“I was a migrant of color in Italy, son of a soccer player, so growing up in an extremely racist and sexist environment. I had no economic possibility to pay for the operation alone; the only way I’ve been told to do that was to sell my body. When I said this to my friend Riccardo [Tisci], he told me to wait and then he put me in the advertising campaign of Givenchy, so that I could earn some money.”
The model recalled that pivotal moment as “surreal. I wondered how I, who had always been treated and felt like the dirt of the world, could be the image of something at all?”
She then decided to pay tribute to Tisci with her name out of gratitude for her friend. “The T in my name is for him. I owed that to him. Back then I told him I didn’t know if my family would have accepted me after the operation and I remember his grandma telling me, ‘if your family won’t want you, you will be in the Tisci family.’”
Lea T said that fashion’s journey toward real inclusivity and diversity is still a long one but she’s starting to notice a change in the attitude and thanked the black feminist movement for their fight as “it’s because of these women I can feel represented today and what has changed in fashion is a consequence of their fight.”
“I don’t believe in movements where everybody is always smiling. I feel angry and this anger is legitimate, this pain belongs to me. I have a fire inside me, that burns and hurts because I feel wrong in a society where the heterosexual white man has power and his occidental religion dominates,” she said, underscoring that sharing different perspectives sustains the evolution of the fashion industry toward more ethical models. “Fashion is forced to change because we are talking, and with social media our voices are amplified,” she concluded.
Before her, other guests held motivational speeches to encourage the industry to break boundaries, including Brazilian model and influencer Paola Antonini and Italian Paralympic athlete Veronica Yoko Plebani.
Followed by 2.6 million users on Instagram, Antonini uses her social platform to share a message of body positivity. “I started to live life to the fullest after my accident. Now I love my body the way it is, with its scars and stretch marks, and I love my prosthetic leg, it is an accessory,” she said with a laugh.
“I’m glad to be living in these days because I can see fashion is changing, as brands and designers are really working to show diversity. And if we see a change in fashion, we can have hope because every sector in society will be triggered to think about this topic,” Antonini added, also underscoring the importance of giving opportunities to the many people with disabilities in order to train them and enable them to work.
Sharing her own experience, Plebani stressed how visibility on different platforms can enrich the narration usually presented in media and invited the audience to commit not only to move toward equality among people but also to aim to “enhance the differences of each individual, because there are incredible opportunities that can be found out.”
Immigration and integration were also presented as assets by Chris Richmond Nzi, founder of Mygrants, a start-up that specializes in educating, training and mapping the skills of migrants in order to facilitate their employment in Italian companies.
“Immigrants represent 3 percent of the world population and could generate 9 percent of the world GDP, so there’s a huge, unexplored potential.” To wit, Richmond Nzi said Africa is the youngest continent in the world, with an average age of 18 versus 42 registered in Europe. “By the end of 2035 the number of Africans having a working age will be far more compared to the others but, even if the continent is developing at a fast pace, it won’t be able to employ all this workforce, which will be eventually compelled to look for a job abroad.”
Even if, according to studies conducted by Mygrants, 67 percent of Italians consider the migratory flux as a main threat to the country, the digital platform’s goal is to connect companies to the profiles of highly skilled migrants, which consistently include a large number of tailors. For Richmond Nzi, this can answer the industry’s increasing demand for professional profiles while creating additional value for companies.