For the world’s leading fashion brands, chief diversity officers have become a hot hire. And with good reason.
H&M appointed Annie Wu to the role after an image of a black boy wearing a hoodie with the words “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” sparked allegations of racism in 2018. Gucci hired its first chief diversity officer following outrage in February over a black balaclava sweater with a cutout mouth resembling oversized red lips. Prada assembled a diversity and inclusion council after a Manhattan storefront displayed monkey figures that were said to evoke blackface stereotypes last December. Nike, Macy’s, Burberry and Chanel have all appointed diversity hires in the past two years.
Within the fashion industry, the role is relatively new. Of the 47 per cent of S&P 500 companies with chief diversity officers, 63 per cent were appointed within the past three years, according to Russell Reynolds Associates. (Reps at Burberry, Chanel and Gucci declined to make their diversity chiefs available for interviews, citing the recentness of their appointments.)
Brands may first enlist chief diversity officers to save face or make amends. But the role is increasingly crucial to meet customer and shareholder needs. “Diversity matters to different stakeholders. It matters to employees, to suppliers, to customers, [and] it matters to the different channels you sell into,” says Oliver Chen, senior equity analyst at Cowen.