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Editor's Comment: It's time for fashion to smash the glass ceiling

Keely Stocker

International Women’s Day has become a fixture in the fashion retail calendar, and prompts an increasing number of campaigns. 

Although some view these as a marketing ploy, done properly the campaigns can engage customers and drive the conversation about gender equality internally.

It is a useful reminder that fashion businesses do need to have these conversations. This industry has some incredibly inspiring female leaders – Liz Evans, Jo Jenkins, Carol Kane, Paula Nickolds, Anne Pitcher, Mary Homer, Beth Butterwick, and the subject of this week’s Drapers Interview, Debbie Hewitt, to name just a few – but the top ranks are still dominated by men.

In January, we launched Drapers’ first gender equality survey to get a sense of the industry’s gender balance, as well as investigate what it is like for women working in fashion retail. It has revealed a mixed picture of progress on gender inequality.

Fashion can appear more equal than some other industries and our survey highlights the progress that has been made in terms of supporting working parents, but it is clear from the responses that there is still more work to be done. Nearly half of respondents (48%) said they had felt discriminated against at work because of their gender – and one in 10 said it happened “often”. Just over a third said they had experienced inappropriate behaviour related to their gender at work.

Perhaps the most shocking findings from the survey were in the comments: one respondent was told “numbers and analysis should be left to the men”, and she should ”focus on looking good”.

When it comes to ethnic diversity, the industry has even further to go. This week, we interview four female fashion leaders from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds. It was only when producing this feature that the reality hit of how few BME female leaders we have in the UK fashion industry today.

Businesses must strive to hire a mix of genders, from a range of ethnic backgrounds, to build an equal workforce that inspires the next generation of fashion leaders and reflects their customer base.

Whether through campaigns, internal initiatives, training, networking opportunities or a review of the general working culture – and preferably a combination of all five – the fashion industry must smash through the glass ceiling, and become a leader in both gender and race equality.

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