How to build diverse, inclusive workplaces

Leaders from Cartier, Macy’s and Rent the Runway share strategies for getting beyond just talk

Demographic and social changes are causing retailers to reevaluate their approach to building teams and workplace cultures. Some of the biggest moves in diversity and inclusion are coming from female retail executives.

“This industry specifically is really looking to do even more around diversity and inclusion, and that’s an incredible commitment,” said PwC Principal, Chief Purpose & Inclusion Officer Shannon Schuyler as she kicked off a Monday session at NRF 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show.

Schuyler, who also runs CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, noted that since the initiative started three years ago, over 900 CEOs from 85 industries have signed a pledge saying that they are committed to make change.

We as women have an opportunity to bring each other along.

Shawn Outler, Macy’s

Much of that activity has been driven by larger conversations around societal issues including the Me Too Movement, Black Lives Matter and the recent uptick in anti-Semitic violence. “We’ve seen a 70 percent increase just over the last year in CEOS that have signed up because there’s so much that’s going on,” Schuyler said. “Diversity is becoming central to the success that we will have as a society and what are we going to do to change it, because we can no longer pretend it’s not happening.”

While a lot of progress has been made, there’s still much work to be done, said Macy’s Inc. Chief Diversity Officer Shawn Outler. She noted that Macy’s chief resource officer, chief financial officer, chief merchant and chief legal officer are all women, half of whom are also ethnically diverse. “We as women have an opportunity to bring each other along,” Outler said. “There are some negative and inaccurate perceptions about women leaders, and we have an opportunity to change that by telling our stories and sharing.”

This year, Macy’s announced a goal to get to 30 percent ethnic representation at its senior director level and above and created a year-long development program focused on ethnic diversity called Mosaic. “We canvassed across the organization and across the country and have about 45 participants this year,” Outler said. “We’re very focused on development with all of our senior directors and really trying to push that forward in the leadership.”

Taking a leadership role and making a difference in someone else’s career is a game changer, noted Rent the Runway’s Chief People Officer Tammy Sheffer. “Historically, men get sponsorship and women get mentorship, and that is very different for our careers. The more as women we can sponsor other women to lift them up and encourage men in leadership to do the same, that’s where I believe you can change those dynamics.”

The difference between mentorship and sponsorship is that a “sponsor is giving up their own political capital in order to sponsor you. It’s a risk,” said Cartier North America President and CEO Mercedes Abramo. While the majority of Cartier clients and global teams are women, “we just haven’t had the evolution of women into more senior leadership roles until recently.” As the first woman to serve in her role, Abramo is focused on “trying to encourage more and more women to manage their careers and speak up. Talk about what their aspirations are and advocate for themselves.”

Having a strong voice and speaking up for yourself is a major component in moving the needle, Macy’s Outler said. “We as women have to stand in our confidence and ask for what we want, and I don’t know if we really do that. I think it’s important to be really intentional and to share. If no one knows what you want, mentorship and sponsorship is really difficult without the right level of direction and support and intentionality.”

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