How can you measure if a company pioneers diversity if the data isn’t collected?
Written by Carmen Bellot
On June 30th, the British Fashion Council released their first ever Diversity & Inclusivity report, showing the need for continuous efforts to diversify the industry. It found that out of the 100 European companies included, 42 per cent said they don’t collect data on diversity and of the 51 per cent that have a coordinated D&I strategy, few have specific targets for representation of underprivileged groups and even fewer have specific budgets allocated to diversity and inclusion efforts. Through measuring how D&I is being prioritised, the report uncovered that while it was making the first steps to addressing the problem, the lack of data available made it difficult to properly measure how much of a problem there is. Only 29% of companies said that their data was accurate while another 29% admitted that the data they do have is insufficient in providing full visibility of diversity.
The lack of data was caused by a few factors. GDPR data collection laws in Europe restrict companies from sharing demographics, especially on ethnicity. Another issue was that the data companies had was often out of date, having been obtained during the recruitment process and rarely properly updated to reflect aspects of diversity that are harder to characterise – for example, social mobility can be hard to define and measure. And crucially, employee trust is vital. Employers need to clearly outline what the data is for, so their employees can feel confident that their personal information will be protected and used safely. “In place of surveys, listening sessions are a great alternative to facilitate an open dialogue with your team about the company culture, which in many ways helps to identify our blind spots,” says Daniel Peters, the founder of Fashion Minority Report who worked with the BFC and The MBS Group on the report. “The data doesn’t always need to be about a headcount, but instead to learn from the source about what they require to thrive.”
Even if these hurdles were removed, Daniel believes that transparency is absolutely essential in seeing how the data can be used for meaningful change. “This report is the first in many steps to validate what a majority of people have known but never dared speak about, let alone challenge. We have lacked transparent data to shine a light on the diversity, equity and inclusion gaps that we have in the fashion industry, and I hope that we all use this as a first step towards identifying the changes which need to be made.” Matthew Dixon, director of Fashion, Luxury and Lifestyle Practice at The MBS Group also sees this problem. “Lots of fashion businesses are doing interesting things on D&I, but very few are prepared to talk about it publicly,” he says. “They often don’t know where they stand versus competitors or adjacent industries. So brands are reluctant to speak publically, fearing that they are behind the pack.”
“Boards should ask; ‘who is not in the room?’ If teams look at their C-suite and see that diversity of thought, then initiatives will cut through and be more engaging.”
Anyone passionate about this issue may feel disheartened at companies’ lack of openness around this topic, but Matthew points out that this is the first of many reports, and meaningful change will happen – just at a slower pace. “[This report] is about highlighting change, but we had to measure before we could move forward.” How do companies progress in the right direction? To start, the issue needs to be a business decision that covers all departments. “In companies gaining positive momentum, diversity is a central pillar of the business, it’s not something that is delegated to the HR department,” explains Matthew. “Hiring a chief diversity officer has driven real progress, but this only works if they actually have authority and the necessary budget and influence to deliver real impact.” And it takes those in leadership to enforce this change. “Boards should ask; ‘who is not in the room?’ If teams look at their C-suite and see that diversity of thought, then initiatives will cut through and be more engaging,” continues Matthew. “Also, it can be as simple as ensuring teams have the budgets to drive change across all areas of the business, not just hiring – eg. using diverse models in marketing campaigns, examining the impact of the supply chain and building internal networks for minority groups.”
Brands like Ganni and Burberry are showing the industry how companies can instil authentic D&I initiatives, while also being truthful to the fact that these changes take time to enforce. Part of this includes changing hiring processes, as GANNI’s Chief Human Resources Officer Roberta Guinzoni mentions in the report that the brand is doing; “Building on what was already in place, such as the unconscious bias training as well as internal guidelines towards D&I, we’re creating a plan that will look at recruitment, onboarding and developing diverse candidates.” As more and more junior applicants are struggling to get their foot in the door – especially those who can’t undertake unpaid internships as their family can’t financially support them – changing hiring processes so that they’re universally fairer couldn’t happen quicker. “There are still many protocols around hiring, particularly at the junior level, where degrees are essential, work experience is demanded, there’s often so many barriers to getting a job, which young people can find demoralising,” says Matthew, noting it’s starting to change. “We have seen some positive examples of companies actively trying to hire from disadvantaged groups and not just from the most prestigious universities. Companies are slowly realising that the traditional system of demanding a lot of experience or work placements just to get a foot in the door is broken and are now actively trying to hire from less privileged backgrounds.”
But how do you know from the outside if a company is authentically trying to become more diverse and inclusive? Young workers are actively looking to work for companies that align with their social values: the Telegraph reported that 86% of millennials say they would leave an employer whose values no longer matched theirs, while in the US, Survey Monkey found that 77% of Gen Zs have indicated that a company’s level of diversity affects their decision to work there. “The tide of consciousness is turning,” says Daniel. “It’s great to see it being led by emerging talent who want to stand for something – in this case it’s a diverse and representative workforce.” Matthew suggests utilising social media as a way of understanding a company’s D&I initiatives. “Pick 50 companies that you’d like to work for, follow those companies on LinkedIn, then find out who is the CEO at each of those companies and follow them. Young people particularly often have a fear of inviting somebody to connect, but be brave! Invite as many people to connect with you as possible. You will start to build a tailored network of companies that you love and see the content from those brands on your feed every day, which means you’ll start to learn what is happening within them.” This method, in the long run, could help you land a job at one of those companies, Matthew elaborates. “Be brave and start commenting every time they post. Sooner or later, those users start seeing the same people commenting, they start thinking ‘who is this person?’ – it’s how young people get noticed, and it could lead to a job opportunity. It’s not an immediate solution, but it’s a really helpful strategy to become visible.”
Imagery curtesy of British Fashion Council.