Why do fashion diversity directors keep quitting?

Two years ago, Lululemon asked Akilah Cadet, an executive coach and diversity consultant for companies like Google and beverage maker Vita Coco, if she would consider a job as a diversity and inclusion manager. Mark.

Without hesitation, she said “No, thank you”.

In Cadet’s view, Lululemon “wasn’t ready for behavioral change” — nor were many other companies that rushed to hire diversity leaders after social justice protests in the summer of 2020 .

In October 2020, Lululemon hired Stacia Jones, former Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Abercrombie & Fitch as Global Head of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Action, reporting directly to of the CEO of the company. In a statement, Lululemon said it “has quickly gained momentum and made significant progress” since hiring Jones, who was asked to help implement a broader DEI strategy “to increase representation across our organization and reflect the communities in which we operate.”

In the months following the murder of George Floyd, at least 60 public companies named their first-ever diversity leader, according to research by executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates. In the fashion sector, LVMH, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, parent company of PVH Corp., and Vans and The North Face, owner of VF Corp., were among the companies that announced new DEI leadership positions.

But the position – which may use other names such as vice president of diversity or director of diversity and inclusion – has seen high turnover. The average term for a CDO is about three years, compared to six years for a CEO, according to LinkedIn. Last month, Nike lost its second DEI director in three years when Felicia Mayo, who previously held a similar role at Tesla, left the company after less than two years. (Jarvis Sam, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Nike since July 2020, assumes the new title of Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion alongside the release of Mayo.) Renée Tirado, the first global head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Gucci stepped down in 2020 after a year.

The root of the problem, experts say, is that many companies have hastily designed and staffed CDO roles in response to pressure from their employees and customers, as well as outside activists. Responsibilities and goals were often nebulous. At worst, CEOs and boards prioritized the quick hiring of an ethnically diverse internal candidate – who often ended up serving as more of a figurehead – over a more meticulous search for someone. one with the expertise and desire to thrive in the role.

“You mainly have these BIPOC women in these roles, they’re told a totally different story in the interview process that they’re going to have resources and their own team and a direct line to the CEO,” Cadet said. “Instead…they’re placed in HR, they never get resources, the company doesn’t educate other leaders on their importance…people don’t listen to them and…the [head of diversity] is then considered a problem.

The consequences touch every corner of a company, from the underrepresented employees whose interests these leaders should be helping to advocate to the executives who navigate CDO roles, and have their careers blocked by a job which, in many cases, they didn’t even want to in the first place.

Raised or relegated?

DEI leadership positions are relatively new to the corporate world, with the first wave of such hires occurring about a decade ago, primarily in the technology and consumer packaged goods sectors.

For leaders whose professional experiences and skills are rooted in the DEI function, being named CDO could be like arriving at the “holy grail,” said Ayana Parsons, senior client partner and board manager and CEO Inclusion at the firm. Korn Ferry business consultancy.

But, often, the work is delegated to ambitious managers and executives – who are often ethnically diverse – already overseeing core business functions such as marketing and finance.

“It makes sense for your diversity leader to be a black person or a person of color, but if they don’t have the change management skills or the ability to influence the C-suite and the board, it won’t work. said Kyle Rudy, senior partner at executive search firm Kirk Palmer Associates. “Their institutional knowledge and their savoir-vivre in this [country with] systematic racism will not be enough to help them [be successful] and… they will be disappointed.

A stint as CDO can be positioned as a stepping stone to CEO or CFO. But in retrospect, this can be seen as leading them away from the path they wanted.

“I can think of two amazing black women who were voluntarily told to be [DEI leaders] after the murder of George Floyd,” Parsons said. “They were both in … leadership roles that put them on the ultimate path to becoming CEO. Both of them are trying to get back to those life goals…and they’re struggling.

An evolving framework

A significant challenge for many diversity leaders is that they are expected, on their own, to make their companies more inclusive – a huge responsibility that requires “all the levers you have in the organization to be pulled”, said said Neela Seenandan, co-chief executive of executive search firm Hanold Associates.

They may not be given enough resources to make a difference and may face opposition from other executives who are not invested in improving the culture and equity of their organization.

Before hiring a CDO, companies should perform an internal DEI audit to understand the extent of their challenges, Parsons said.

The position should also report to the CEO, rather than serve as an extension of the human resources department, experts say. It would signal to others within the company that improving thinking around DEI is a priority, a diversity manager at a major fashion company told BoF.

“Expectations are high, commitments are high, but action at deeper levels of the organization may be weak,” the executive said. “Reporting to the CEO…would signal high importance and require action to be taken.”

Gucci did not replace Tirado after his departure. Instead, the brand’s DEI work is now managed by its Global Equity Board, a group chaired by CEO Marco Bizzarri and made up of internal and external stakeholders, including model and activist Bethann Hardison and activist and writer Sinéad Burk, and chaired by CEO Marco Bizzarri. . (Gucci’s parent company, Kering, promoted Tania Castillo Pérez to global head of diversity and inclusion in March, replacing Kalpana Bagamane Denzel, who held a similar position for more than two years. French luxury conglomerate has also appointed regional heads DEI).

“This move from a single person in charge of DEI to an entire Board of Directors…has helped on the one hand to achieve the maximum level of sponsorship and internal guidance and on the other hand to have an agile means of aligning and to transfer messages, values ​​and opportunities across society,” the company said.

Not every company needs a diversity officer. But companies should be careful not to signal that they consider DEI’s work unworthy of dedicated expertise or resources, Rudy said.

“The solution is not to divide the responsibility [of DEI] and distribute it among people in the company,” Rudy said. “It’s about taking the one person who has that responsibility and elevating them to peer level in the C-suite and giving them the funding and the team they need to make it effective.”

Ultimately, this will require companies to make a long-term commitment, Parsons said.

“It’s a challenging role, but it’s no different than other leadership roles like sustainability manager or [environmental, social and governance],” she said. “But if we thought of the DEI office as a line of business and supported that and it was fully integrated…then I don’t think it would be that difficult.”

Cadet continues to consult with Lululemon on plans, including an upcoming store opening in Oakland, California. proof of this – “there is a lot of work that needs to be done.”

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