Image courtesy of CFDA.com

Following a tumultuous year of pandemic fatigue, election anxiety, and civil unrest, companies are (finally) taking the time to research and better understand the discrepancies between people of color (POC) and white employees in the workplace. Several months after the Black Lives Matter protests took place across the world, the Council of Fashion Designers in America, Inc. (CFDA) in partnership with PVH Corp. have released a lengthy and informative report titled “The State of Diversity, Equity and, Inclusion in Fashion Study and Report.”

Released on Feb. 1 and researched by McKinsey & Company’s survey of 1,000 working professionals, the report outlines every aspect of racial inequality in the fashion industry based on personal experiences. The research is the next step forward to ensure a diverse and equal workplace, where all people feel represented.

The key findings draw from three focus groups (made up of emerging designers and students), as well as industry professionals from across 41 companies and 20 stakeholder interviews. Six key areas of opportunity were identified in the study: awareness, access, promotion, advocacy, compensation, and belonging; each of these with a thorough investigative report, data insights, and future crisis management plans.

Some noteworthy highlights from the study:

• Almost 60% of respondents say that their companies have undertaken internal or external DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) actions, with four in five believing that the response is authentic.

• A majority of respondents (78%) believe that their companies value the differences that people bring to the workplace.

• 50% of employees of color report that a career in the fashion industry is not equally accessible to all qualified candidates, and almost one in four question the meritocracy of opportunities.

• Black employees report greater inaccessibility to the fashion industry (68%) vs. white employees (37%).

• LGBTQ+ employees report greater inaccessibility to the fashion industry (51% disagree) vs. heterosexual employees (41%).

• Black employees report feeling less prepared for their first job search (38% report that they were “not at all equipped”) vs. white employees (19%).

• 1% of white employees and 26% of POC employees felt their race or ethnicity had a negative impact on receiving raises or promotions. This primarily affected Black employees, who counted for 40%, and Asian employees, who counted for 27% of the statistic.

CFDA 2021 American Collections Calendar. Courtesy of CFDA.com

A common theme throughout the research that deterred entry-level employees from joining the fashion industry was low compensation. In this instance, 37% of Black employees are reported to supplement their income, while only 26% of white employees need supplementation.

“I felt like I had to choose between doing what I wanted and doing something practical that pays so that I can live and eat,” a Black student said in the report. “I can’t move from [other city] to New York City on $15 an hour.”

In more eye-opening statistics, 68% of Black employees reported greater inaccessibility to the fashion industry versus the 37% of white employees. This is more evident in POC and low-income communities, where there is a lack of fashion industry representation and information.  Attending a fashion school is a common route to land someone a role in the fashion industry but in the undergraduate class of 2020, less than 10% of graduating students were black. While financial aid does provide some relief, the report notes that it covers on average less than a quarter of the total cost of attendance.

Regarding belonging in the industry, two in three Black employees report often being the only person of their race or ethnicity in the room. These people feel more under pressure to perform, with only 10% feeling included in day-to-day activities.

As a result of the many sobering statistics discovered by McKinsey & Company, they have outlined ways in which companies can promote diversity, allow POC to feel comfortable in their roles, and above all, spread awareness so that the future in fashion companies is illuminating for all employees. These initiatives include marketing fashion schools in underrepresented communities, incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in the curriculums, and creating safe spaces for people to discuss their shared experiences.

Casandra Diggs, President of the CFDA, takes into account the struggle for opportunities POC talent faces.

“We need to collectively address and change this,” Diggs said in CFDA’s statement. “Our work with PVH will hasten the process and is key to CFDA’s overall [diversity, equity, and inclusion] work around our IMPACT initiative, launching later this month to identify, connect, support, and nurture Black and Brown creatives and professionals in fashion.”

While there is still a long way to go before there is a full representation of POC in the fashion industry, the research released by CFDA and PVH is reassuring that there is a light at the end of the tunnel as long as we continue to educate ourselves and be mindful of each person’s individual experience.


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