How Technology Can Help Diversify the US Fashion Industry

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In its The State of Fashion 2019 report, McKinsey predict the coming year will be shaped by “shifts in technology, social causes, and trust issues alongside the potential disruption from geopolitical and macroeconomic events.” Only those fashion brands that accurately reflect their customers’ needs and have the courage to innovate will thrive.

McKinsey’s 2018 report, Shattering the Glass Runway, revealed the fashion industry is sustained by women yet run by men. Women spend three times more on clothing than men yet fill the majority of entry level jobs. Fewer than 50 percent of well-known womenswear brands are designed by women and only 14 percent of major brands have a female executive in charge, despite women comprising 85 percent of the fashion customer base.

In their report, McKinsey partnered with Glamour and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) to find out why. They surveyed 535 and interviewed 25 US-based professionals across the industry, both women and men at various tenure levels. The Glass Runway study explored both the sources of gender inequality and ways to overcome them.

The study found four primary sources of gender inequality:

·      Ambiguous success criteria

·      Disparity in sponsorship and mentorship

·      Constraints of work-life balance

·      Lacking awareness and commitment

The findings for the first two stand out for their clear double-standards.

Ambiguous success criteria

According to the survey, 80 percent of senior vice presidents and vice presidents report the criteria for career advancement in the fashion industry is clear. Yet only 65 percent of their female counterparts agree. Many more men at that level also report getting promoted without asking, though they are twice as likely to ask for a promotion.

Disparity in sponsorship and mentorship

The report also found women receive less career advice than men do. Across all levels, only 22 percent of women report getting advice to advance their careers, versus 33 percent of men. At the VP level, the gap widens markedly to 27 percent of women versus 45 percent of men.

Nike exited executives amid workplace misconduct

In April last year, amid complaints of a “boys’ club” culture at the sportswear giant, CEO Mark Parker announced an investigation into workplace misconduct. Four executives were asked to leave in an attempt to shakeup their corporate culture.

The following month, Nike’s head of HR Monique Matheson announced internally Nike has “failed to gain traction” in hiring diverse talent and that Nike’s leadership is still mostly white and male. Matheson introduced a number of measures to diversify its management, which she said would have a trickle-down effect to lower levels of the company. These include changing hiring practices and creating new development programs to invest in diverse talent. 

Council of Fashion Designers partners with PVH

The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and PVH (the parent company of brands such as Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger), have also partnered to examine the need for Inclusion and Diversity in the American fashion industry.

Their report found although there is evidence of more racial and ethnic representation on fashion runways, magazines and brands, there is still a systemic lack of diversity and inclusion in the business of fashion.

“There is a continued lack of opportunity and access for people of underrepresented backgrounds in the fashion industry. It’s a systemic issue tied to the homogeneity of industry leadership. Until fashion leaders across all categories become more diverse, we will continue to only progress at the surface level.”

Erica Lovett, Manager, Inclusion & Community, Condé Nast

In 2019, the CFDA plans to focus on Peer-to-Peer Mentorship, Business Networking Opportunities, Educational Programming and Leadership Skillset Training to advance Diversity and Inclusion in the American fashion industry.

Tech-enabled mentoring

WERKIN’s tech-enabled mentoring platform provides learning and development opportunities to employees across large organisations, reducing barriers to access this support.

Algorithms impartially match employees with missions, stretch assignments as well as suitable mentors. Real-time notifications alert mentees when their mentor is nearby for quick meetings. Team leaders can set development goals, assign mentors and schedule meetings.

The American fashion industry stands on the threshold of another year marked by flux. Technology, social responsibility, trust and disruption have the potential to disarm even the biggest players. The best opportunity lies in driving gender equality in middle management and senior leadership to reap the financial rewards of diversity and innovation. Tech-enabled mentoring can accelerate career development for women by using algorithms to reduce bias. When 85 percent of your customer base are women, it makes sense to ensure women feature equally at all levels to better address consumer needs so your brand stays relevant this year and into the future.

Episode 20: WERKIN with Maggie Alphonsi on banging the drum for women in sport.

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On the latest episode of WERKIN with, Hayley chats to Maggie Alphonsi, rugby star and prominent commentator. Alphonsi describe why it’s important to bang the drum for women in sport, the mentors who have supported her along the way, and storytelling as a superpower.

 Alphonsi’s journey as the UK’s most recognizable women’s rugby player began with a fated wander through the halls while skipping class. She ran into her PE teacher, who had visible injuries on her face. Curious, Alphonsi asked what had happened. Her teacher, Lisa Burgess, replied that she played rugby, and observing Alphonsi’s athletic skill in PE class, invited her to check out the club. The rest is history.

“I went to a rugby club, I picked up a rugby ball and I played and absolutely loved tackling people, I loved running past people. I just loved it. I fell in love with the sport because it suited my attributes. I was big and I was strong. I was quite aggressive.”

Alphonsi’s gateway into professional rugby was also her first experience with having a mentor, as she describes Burgess, her PE teacher,

“I still keep in contact with her, she's a mentor to me. It's amazing when you have one person in your life who can change it in the simplest way. She said, ‘just try the sport out,’ and that's been the rest of my life for the last 30 odd years. I owe a lot to her.”

Burgess was just the first of many mentors to have supported Alphonsi’s journey,

“I think mentors have been quite significant in my life. You don't just have one mentor, you have several different types of people who come into your life, who come along with you on the journey, and then you dip in and out with them to get support to keep going forward.”

Paying it forward, Alphonsi has taken it upon herself to promote women in sport,

“We do need a lot of people to bang the drum and make a lot of noises, otherwise there won't be momentum, we've got some great shifts now. We need to keep pushing at it, otherwise we could revert backwards. What's great is that there's a lot of strong women out there, a lot of strong men out there, who are supporting the change, who are pushing it. If we keep doing it, then we'll continue to get success and women in sport will be in the limelight more often.”

Getting women in sport into the limelight matters because representation matters, helping fans and young girls to see themselves in professional athletes. Alphonsi has found that off the rugby pitch, her voice has a greater reach,

“It's hard when you're an athlete and you're playing, all you can do is play and you've got a voice, but it's not as strong. When you leave the sport, you become stronger with your voice because you can talk a bit more freely and actually create greater change and make a bigger noise.”

While Alphonsi was still playing professionally, she recalls the moment at the 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand, when she felt her power as a pro athlete,

“We had 14,000 people come to watch the game. I think it's the first time we've ever had that many people coming to watch a women's rugby match, which just blew us all away. We had people watch it and go ‘wow, women can play the sport. We had lots of new converts.’”

Having made a career leap from professional sport to journalism as a commentator, what advice does Maggie have for women considering a change?

 “Step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. That's one thing I learned more so in my career. There will be many times where, I probably didn't step out of my comfort zone and I was very comfortable with the things that I was doing.”

Alphonsi also notes the importance of owning your journey, “You sometimes doubt yourself, and you need to not doubt yourself, in business or in sport. You've got to fake it til you make it, and step into that role and actually just own it and then let the rest come.”

The rugby star’s transition from pro-athlete to commentator has unleashed a newfound reverence for storytelling,

“Everyone's got a level of inspiration in them, everyone's got a different story. You don't have to be an athlete to have a great story. Everyone's got a really interesting story. Through the life I live now, I tell my story quite a lot, and through telling my story, it means others open up about their stories.”

For more from Hayley’s interview with Maggie Alphonsi, listen on iTunes or Soundcloud.

Episode 19: WERKIN with Melanie Richards on resilience.

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If there is one thing Melanie Richards, Deputy Chair of KPMG UK has learned in building a more inclusive company, it is that “it’s not quite as easy as pushing buttons”. Throughout her distinguished career in finance, and as a founding member of the 30% Club, a pioneering campaign focused on increasing female representation in FTSE Boards, Richards has learned that building a sense of belonging for all employees takes commitment and a willingness to learn. This week, Hayley interviews Richards, who discusses taking diversity and inclusion beyond recruitment, building a community of mentors, and the power of resilience.

So what does it take to create that sense of belonging in a global company?

“We need a broad range of people and we need a broad range of thinking and we get that from bringing all types of people into our organization. You have to be really mindful about what you're trying to do and that doesn't mean that it's easy or that there are any quick wins. I'd love to give you a nice list that says ‘do these things,’ but it's not quite as easy as pushing buttons.”

For Richards, companies need to move beyond focusing on recruitment to also consider how to retain employees from underrepresented groups, although this remains an important part of encouraging a more diverse workforce. Richards talks about the need to reduce bias through the language used in recruitment and promotion materials, “everything from how you describe a role, and there's even technology now where you can see if you are creating any sort of bias, and this is good not just for gender, but any bias whatsoever in the job description that you're putting out into the market.”

How has Richards sought to broaden her own advisors and influencers? Richards emphasizes the need to cultivate relationships with many mentors, sponsors and champions,

“I wouldn't put it down to any one person so as not to detract from the many great people [who have supported me]. I think there is an important message which you have different cheerleaders at different stages of your career. These relationships are really important professional relationships. It happens over time and it's if you deliver excellence through an unspoken contract that says ‘I'll work really hard for you.’ I think I've had many good people along the way who I've built and nurtured those sorts of relationships with.”

The importance of building diverse teams of advisers also translates into how Richards manages her teams, “I am quite clear about what I want and expect of people. I communicate that. I am a collaborator by nature. I like to pull people together and get them to be the best they can be, but also get the best out of them. I'm always trying to see what more somebody can do.”

Beyond a strong sense of collaboration, what does Richards count as her superpower? Resilience. And this is a value she likes to see in her employees, “When I ask myself what we need from the people coming through, it’s a level of resilience they're going to need, and their ability to operate in ambiguous situations. These are the things that actually funnily enough I thrive on.”

 For more from Hayley’s interview with Melanie Richards, listen on iTunes or Soundcloud.

Rise of the Returners

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When Michelle Kennedy, the co-founder and CEO of Peanut, a social discovery app that connects new mothers, came back to work after a maternity leave, she not only recognised a lot of changes in herself, but also recognised a lot of changes she needed to see in her workplace to accommodate her needs as a new parent. The same is the case with a lot of returning parents, or “Returners”, who resume work a couple of months or years after caring for a child, or sometimes caring for an ill or elderly relative.

It is understandable that getting back to work after childbirth can be very stressful for parents-- emotionally, physically and financially. And according to a report published by PwC on women returners, most of the time many women returners end up in lower skilled roles than the ones they held prior to their career breaks, referred to as occupational downgrading. The research shows that three in five or about 65% of returning women are likely to face this problem. To combat this, a lot of companies are coming up with tailored “returnship” or mentorship programmes for a seamless reintegration of their employees back into the workplace.

The importance of mentorship here can be further highlighted as it constitutes the first step to get back into the company’s existing rhythm. Mentorship can help to connect employees with shared experiences, in this case, as parents or caregivers, taking the guesswork out of jumping back into the workplace.

We thought we’d highlight a few companies that are making life a bit easier for these returners:

  1. Mentor Moms at PWC:  Apart from being trailblazers worldwide, PwC is setting a whole new benchmark for working moms who choose to return to work by offering telecommuting programmes, six weeks of paid time off for women and men, and adoption reimbursement up to $6,000. But perhaps the most radical approach is the Mentor Moms programme, which pairs new mothers with other working moms in the company, giving them someone to confide in about the unique difficulties of balancing work and a new baby.

  2. On-site daycare at Patagonia: Outdoor wear company Patagonia proudly states that 100% of its new mothers return to work after their maternity leave ends, an accomplishment made possible in part through their in-house daycare perk. Since 1983, Patagonia has offered on-site daycare and after-school programmes at its headquarters in Ventura, California. The company says it’s good not just for the parents and their kids, but for the company as a whole.

  3. Vodafone makes sure that all new mothers will not only get at least 16 weeks of paid time off, but can also then work reduced hours at full pay for the following six months. Johnson and Johnson are allowing new parents, including those who adopt, to split their expanded 17-week leave so as to allow more flexibility in splitting time and caregiving responsibilities.

A few places for companies to start as they consider how to support their co-workers and employees?

  1. Give them space

  2. Have Empathy

  3. Consider unpredictable schedules

  4. Communicate changing requirements and expectations effectively 

Such returner programmes make sure that re-entering the work place for parents becomes an accepted norm rather than a one-off exception. It maintains employee satisfaction and ensures the return of experienced people back to the workplace, retaining their experience while allowing them to pursue their desired paths, like starting a family, outside of work.

At WERKIN, we believe in the power of mentorship to connect employees with shared goals and experiences. If companies want to build a diverse and inclusive workplace, they must consider the diverse situations of their employees, making it easier for them to manage personal transitions like becoming a parent or caring for a loved one. WERKIN helps companies manage, measure and scale tech-enabled mentorship programmes for employees.