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The Diversity List Illustrates Fashion’s Pervasive Problems with Inclusivity

Fashion has a diversity problem.” And now, the issue has been brought to living color.

Sourcing Journal editorial director Tara Donaldson, along with senior designer Celena Tang, have launched The Diversity List, an interactive site dedicated to illustrating the scope of the sector’s lack of inclusivity.

Pulling data from fashion companies’ investor relations websites, social media posts and various publicly released reports, the site provides a concise breakdown of 100 of the industry’s top brands and fashion firms, from Nike to Anthropologie, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, PVH Corp., Ralph Lauren, The RealReal and more.

The graphics, which illustrate each company as a collective of 100 small figures, show the ethnic and gender breakdowns of their workforces by percentage—from board members and executives through retail and distribution center workers. The graphics are presented alongside many of these companies’ recent commitments to diversity and inclusion in the wake of nationwide civil unrest—sometimes drawing a contrast between promises and reality.

Tang sought to infuse the sobering data with a touch of humanity through her illustrations. “We’re talking about diversity and how a workforce is represented, so it’s important to me that they look like human beings,” she said.

While the list is ultimately about facts and figures, Tang wanted viewers to be able to empathize with the people behind the project. “That’s how I’ve always thought about visualizing numbers—remembering who they represent,” she said.

The findings of the report are disheartening when presented as a collective representation of how far the industry has yet to go in calling itself truly inclusive. Donaldson herself said that she did not recognize the severity of the issue until pulling together the data.

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“Across 100 fashion players, there are six CEOs and brand presidents of color,” she said. “It’s starting to put in real, clear context how systemic the lack of representation is.”

While the events of recent months have spurred a reckoning across industries, she said, fashion’s exclusive mindset has been festering unchecked for a long time. “It’s about time that we start paying closer attention to representation everywhere,” Donaldson added.

Messages of support and commitments to diversity became ubiquitous fixtures in brand communications this spring, but drilling down to the real numbers shows that some brands and firms have not been practicing what they’re now preaching. “We never hear anything about who’s in the board room or see the whole executive team, but these are the people making decisions,” Donaldson said. “I want everyone to have access to this information so they can make decisions about how they feel about a brand or where they may want to work.”

Donaldson also said it’s an important time to bring the conversation about diversity front and center. “We can’t see how much work there is left to be done if we don’t have an understanding of where we are currently.”

Some private companies included on the list do not share diversity numbers publicly, but Donaldson said she hopes The Diversity List will encourage them to take steps toward transparency even if they’re not required to. Other companies have undoubtedly put work into creating inclusive teams, and notably, Donaldson said, their efforts were reflected in their public-facing statements in recent months.

Seattle-based Nordstrom was clear about the state of the company and its efforts to move forward, she said by way of example. “They have a page on their website that says, ‘here’s where we are, and here’s what we’re doing,’” she said. The retailer also has three black women on its board, which is more than any other company on the list.

Donaldson also noted that a company’s workforce often seems to reflect its surroundings, to some degree. Kobe-based footwear brand Asics, for example, has a workforce that is 95 percent Japanese.

Still, many American brands’ workforces don’t mirror their diverse consumer bases. Athleta, Banana Republic, Coach, Everlane, Gap and countless others are more than half white, and many brands boast few—if any—people of color on their boards or in executive leadership roles.

Even music and fashion mogul Rihanna finds herself the lone person of color helming Fenty, her LVMH-owned luxury line. The brand’s board and executive leadership are otherwise entirely white.

“I hope the companies will look at [The Diversity List] and will see where they stand in contrast to some of their peers,” Donaldson said.

“This industry doesn’t survive on what happens in the boardroom alone—it’s built by workers all across the supply chain,” she added. “Diversity can’t only exist on the factory floor.”

Tang said she’s hopeful that the team will be able to update The Diversity List with positive progress as time marches on. “If in six months a company says, ‘We’ve been able to get the data,’ or, ‘We’ve made some changes and we want to see them reflected,’ we would love to see that,” she said.

“If there are companies out there that want to be represented on the list, we’d like to do that, too,” she added.