DE&I has become a buzzword for many companies, but fashion still has a long way to go when it comes to improving diversity, equity and inclusion. A recent report from the British Fashion Council found just 5% of the most senior roles in the industry are held by people from an ethnic minority background.
Chanda Pandya has worked in fashion for more than 20 years as a senior brand and buying director for companies including Arcadia. She is now a consultant to retail and fashion brands, a lecturer at the Fashion Retail Academy in London and a campaigner for more diversity within the fashion industry.
Here, Chanda tells Oresa how the fashion industry can become more diverse and inclusive.
I graduated from the London College of Fashion more than 20 years ago and decided to become a buyer. I started at Debenhams as an assistant and there was only one other that looked like me. Because fashion is so expressive and being based in London, I didn’t think that being Asian would ever be an issue.
For me it wasn’t really, but as I climbed the ladder I realised there was a real lack of diversity. And when I became on the side of actually employing young people, I realised there was a need for equity.
But more than 10 years after a board member told me ‘we need more people like you’, not much has changed. I went to a retail conference recently and you could count the number of people of colour on your two hands.
So diversity and representation still doesn’t exist.
Below are some of my suggestions of how companies and executives can begin making a difference.
Start with education
If we don’t educate about these things, and we don’t educate for opportunities in our industry within these different communities, then there’s a problem. Education should start at school or university but should also be promoted among c-suite executives.
Show the opportunities
Fashion is the second biggest employer across the globe and the opportunities are so broad. We’re not introducing or exposing it at a young enough age in the education system. The ‘cliqueness’ also still exists. Success shouldn’t rely on who you know, and we in the fashion industry should lead the way on this.
It has to come from the top down. Having a CSR policy and ESG policy are great on paper, but there are currently limited calls to action. Brands and companies are not being held accountable. Companies should make sure they have a diverse intake and should also fast-track diverse talent to the top positions.
Achieve an equity balance
There’s a charity called the Black British Initiative (BBI) who are doing great things and helping retailers and brands to achieve equity. I suggest leaders sign up to their Kitemark as a starting point. There has to be an equity balance so it’s not about positive discrimination but about understanding all the barriers they face. I find it surprising when you have a middle aged white person as the head of diversity and inclusion. I’m sorry but unless you’ve lived it, breathed it and you can talk about it from a grassroots level then you cannot understand it.
There should be parity in pay for all men and women doing the same roles. The gender pay gap is still bad but the race gap is even greater. Recruiters should make their suggested salary clear, even if it’s within a range (such as £45,000 to £55,000). We shouldn’t be paying some people lower wages for the same work in 2023.
Everybody has a part to play, whether it’s the government, companies or chief executives. By following some of the above points, you can help make a change. Only by taking action will any difference be made.