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‘Female-Friendly’ Levi’s Pledges to Mentor Women Refugees

Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.) is proving that its recent recognition as a female-friendly workplace is all-inclusive.

This month, the brand was recognized in Forbes’ list of the world’s top female-friendly companies, aligning the progressive company with other leading apparel brands such as VF Corporation, Puma, Zalando, TJX Companies, Urban Outfitters, LVMH, Chanel, Cotton On, Gap, Kering, Adidas, Nike, Nordstrom, Fast Retailing and Hennes & Mauritz AB, which also made the list.

This year, Forbes called attention to the global pandemic’s impact on women specifically, noting that millions of women recently dropped out of the U.S. workforce, likely a result of inadequate childcare and a pay gap exacerbated by a world in crisis.

To generate the list, the news outlet surveyed 85,000 women in 40 countries to rate their employers on criteria such as pay equity and parental leave, and to assess marketing messages—whether the company uses its platform to promote gender equality or perpetuate negative stereotypes—as well as representation at the board and executive levels.

The heritage company has updated its policies to better support all women in the workplace. In 2020, it rolled out a stronger paid family leave policy and extended paid sick leave to part-time retail employees, and updated bereavement from three days to two weeks and expanded it to cover pregnancy loss.

“We’ve worked hard to institute policies and benefits designed to support women in our organization as they navigate the pandemic and beyond,” said Tracy Layney, LS&Co. chief human resources officer. “At LS&Co., we’re committed to creating a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive company and culture.”

Following the recognition, LS&Co. pledged its support of women refugees. The company was one of 25 companies to support the community at the virtual European Business Summit on Refugee Women conference. Organized by refugee support organization Tent and women’s employment nonprofit Catalyst, the event gathered leading European businesses to make commitments to support refugee women in Europe through mentorship programs. Other apparel brands to partner with the organizations include Gap Inc., H&M Group, Inditex, Nordstrom, Uniqlo, Hollister and PVH Corp.

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At the conference, LS&Co. announced it will mentor 50 women refugees over the next three years in Belgium, France, Italy and Spain. The program is open to refugee women, including recently arrived Afghan women, and will provide practical skills like resume writing, interviewing and networking tips to set them up for career success.

According to Tent founder Hamdi Ulukaya, connecting at-risk women with career opportunities is a win-win for both women and companies in need of more help.

“A decent job is one of the most important things to help refugees better integrate in their new communities—but refugee women are doubly discriminated against and face so many barriers to employment,” Ulukaya said. “I am very proud of the companies stepping up… to mentor this population. This is the right thing and the smart thing to do—with Europe facing labor shortages across many sectors, it makes good business sense for companies to prepare new, hard-working and resilient talent to enter the workforce.”

Valued at $21.8 billion by business data platform Statista, the denim industry has the potential to use business as a force for good. Companies such as Australia’s Outland Denim have long touted the need to work ethics into its business platform, publishing a report on how to tackle modern slavery and establishing a manufacturing facility that employs some of the most vulnerable populations in Cambodia. There, the brand provides its employees with valuable life skills ranging from finances to work training.

Fast Retailing, which owns labels like Uniqlo and J Brand, has also made strides in community outreach, launching a clothing donation program to support refugee camps and victims of natural disasters around the world, and developing initiatives to employ vulnerable populations. As of August 2020, 121 refugees were working at Uniqlo stores all over the world.

LS&Co.’s newest initiative follows through on its five-year support of those impacted by the global refugee crisis. Since 2016, the company has supported those affected through philanthropic grants, clothing donations and employee volunteering, as well as developing partnerships with nonprofit organizations in different countries across the region. It has donated nearly 95,000 pieces of clothing to refugees in different European countries and donated $260,000 to local and global community partners serving refugees. It also noted that employees have volunteered a total of 1,550 hours with community organizations serving refugees.