Gap Inc. is on a journey to becoming a more inclusive company.
The parent company of Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta published its first standalone Equality and Belonging (E&B) report Tuesday summarizing its plans for ending systemic racism within the organization and beyond.
The E&B report offers a breakdown of ethnicity and gender representation throughout the company globally for the 2020 fiscal year. Though Gap Inc. has publicly reported global employee gender data and overall U.S. race and ethnicity data since 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 revealed the need for more detailed information.
Only 4 percent of employees at the company HQ identify as Black, and 10 percent identify as Latinx. Twenty-six percent of employees at HQ are Asian.
Black and Latinx representation is higher at the store level, with 27 percent of employees identifying as Latinx and 19 percent of employees identifying as Black. Six percent of store-level employees identify as Asian.
Similar disparities are present at the gender level, with 58 percent of female-identifying vice presidents and C-level employees, despite women representing 76 percent of Gap Inc. employees. Though more work needs to be done, Gap Inc.’s roots are gender-inclusive. The report notes that the company was founded in 1969 by Doris and Don Fisher, who each held the same equity stake—a significant fact, as this took place during a time when women were often left out of financial and professional conversations.
Gap Inc. published this report as companies are being called to play a larger role in ending systemic racism. Last year, Levi’s published its first-ever diversity and inclusion report that helped shed light on the diversity of its global workforce. After acknowledging that it needed better representation, the denim giant pledged to double down on its efforts and publish an annual report documenting its progress.
More work lies ahead of Gap Inc., which is enhancing previously established diversity efforts with new initiatives that support Black students and emerging talent from underrepresented communities. The company’s goals for 2025 are to double the representation of Black and Latinx employees at all levels in its U.S. HQ offices and increase representation of Black employees by 50 percent in store leader roles.
Currently, 26 percent of U.S. employees are Latinx, 17 percent are Black and 7 percent are Asian. Leadership at the store level is lagging: 17 percent are Latinx, 9 percent are Black and 3 percent are Asian.
“We have not solved the problem in its entirety,” Bahja Johnson, head of customer belonging at Gap Inc., told Rivet. “Our approach in this initial year was truly rooted in creating a foundation, and establishing the conditions for success.”
Among the ways the company aims to disable systemic racism is to help provide Black students with access into the fashion industry. Gap Inc.’s recently launched the “Closing the Gap” awards program in partnership with Harlem’s Fashion Row (HFR), an organization dedicated to amplifying Black and Latino designers, and ICON360, a HFR nonprofit subsidiary launched in response to the pandemic that aims to strengthen educational opportunities for the next generation of Black fashion leaders.
The program funds scholarships across 10 fashion departments at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Combined, the awards total $510,000, which the retailer noted is the largest donation to HBCUs fashion programs by a major retailer. In addition to the funding, students enrolled in each of the winning HBCU programs will also receive mentorship and internship opportunities from Gap Inc. and ICON360.
Separately, Gap Inc. sponsored HFR’s inaugural “Fashion Playbook,” an online video content library of insight from fashion industry professionals with a mission of leveling the playing field for minorities aspiring to a career in fashion.
Internally, the company is reevaluating its hiring requirements. Gap Inc. removed educational requirements for 99.7 percent of job descriptions below the vice-president level to further increase job access. And the company’s Rotational Management Program, an initiative it launched in 1998 to offer leadership training to full-time employees, is now more diverse than ever: 62 percent of employees in the program identify as Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), including 32 percent who identify as Black and Latinx, nearly double the makeup of last year’s class.
A 2012 graduate of the program, Johnson notes firsthand its effectiveness—and adds that the uptick in representation will play a large role in diversifying the company’s leadership representation.
“When I started, there were four Black women in a class of 19, and that was groundbreaking,” she said. “To now have have 62 percent of that class identifying as BIPOC, that means that the future leaders of the organization not only have a community but can also see themselves in leadership.”
Partnerships and representation are crucial to making lasting change. The company teamed with inclusion strategist Amber Cabral, formerly a diversity strategist at Walmart Inc., to facilitate an educational series for employees that dives into the complexities of systemic racism. To date, the company has hosted 29 “Real Talks” and 10 “Allies and Advocates” workshops to foster a more inclusive environment that’s intended to spread beyond the office walls.
But while efforts are mainly focused internally, Gap Inc.’s scale means it’s capable of creating industry-wide change. Through a company inclusivity initiative, the Banana Republic brand, for example, has “redefined the word ‘nude’” with its True Hues line, which offers camisoles, pumps and other basics in 11 skin-tone matching shades.
“We have to ask ourselves how we can fulfill our promise of doing more than selling clothes. It’s about ensuring that we are a multiplier for good for all of the communities we serve,” said Johnson, adding that, by launching inclusive initiatives, it’s “showing the industry that doing good is the standard.”
The company’s response to Covid-19 is also a significant stride in its diversity and inclusion strategy, as the pandemic disproportionately affected people of color and others with pre-existing social vulnerabilities. In response to the pandemic, Gap Inc. donated 3.5 million masks and face coverings to community organizations and offered 48 Be Well + Stay Connected speaker series conversations focused on improving mental health and wellness throughout the crisis.
“Last year with Covid leading into a racial reckoning, you can’t unlink the two,” Johnson said of the pandemic and the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. “What Covid taught us is that inclusion and belonging seeps into everything we do.”