The fashion industry has been confronted with issues of diversity and inclusion for decades, so after 2020- the year when brands truly had to make it clear where they stand, and those who were caught treating black people and people of color unfairly- had to put strategies in place to prevent similar practices from happening again. Which is where chief diversity officers come in.
Chief Diversity Officer, the term itself sounds like a joke from Twitter. And unfortunately, the intentions behind this move do not make this whole situation any less aggravating. It is a corporate way of saying “teach me how not to be racist” or “teach me to view black people and people of color as humans who are equally worthy of the opportunities that white people get through nepotism, elitism and white privilege.”
Like Royn Douglas Westling said on Small Talks “people really cannot imagine a reality outside of their own.” White and privileged people that is.
Diversity and inclusion are not just a visual exercise, which is where so many companies are guaranteed to go wrong. Because so many think of it as simply that. And then the thinking stops. Completely.
There are people in fashion brands who on a daily basis already perform the role, when they fight and pitch talented brands, designers, writers and photographers for a campaign or story. Only to be shut down and rejected because the person they proposed is black or a person of color.
Then there is the added emotional labor- that goes into being in predominantly white spaces and navigating casual racism during lunch and meetings. Will this role pay for that? And the toll it takes on an individual, both professionally and personally.
We are dealing with an industry that does not understand that. The fact that there are people in fashion who have occupied this role as a volunteer, proves it. Nobody saw it as a problem that the person addressing diversity and inclusion mishaps or better yet preventing their companies from dealing with a PR nightmare- and was not getting paid for it as an issue. Like, nobody.
Chief diversity officers need to be met with the needed support in resources. They need to get support when they have pointed out a problematic figure or practice in a company. Companies that are in a hurry to fill this role most likely have not thought that far.
What happens when people start being held accountable for their racial biases? Will the work environment still be a welcoming place to chief diversity officers? Most likely not.
Companies that have not had an honest conversation about how toxic their environment has been for the very few black people and people of color in their companies- are most likely not ready for an effective chief diversity officer, who wants to create a healthy environment for incoming black people and the existing staff.
That is another factor, hiring people who actually want to make a difference and not just fill a position for the sake of being there.
Or implementing specific ideas of diversity by copying another company thinking it will work for yours. There is not one size fits all, when it comes to addressing diversity and inclusion.
This is only the beginning and it is exhausting to think about what the people who are going to be appointed as chief diversity officers are walking into. Nothing but a mess. But companies are not going to be rewarded for just trying. That is not enough anymore.