How Luxury Can Better Support Women’s Empowerment

On September 25, the Sunday of Milan Fashion Week’s Spring/Summer 2023 shows, leaders from the fashion, luxury and jewelry sectors gathered at the Bulgari Hotel for a panel discussion on how the industry can better empower its female-identifying workforce.

Conducted by Chatham House rule, participants shared their views on the power of external activations and activism before discussing the role that human leadership and strategies play in empowering women. The conversation ended with the theme of supporting women in the supply chain and ensuring social welfare within the global industry.

The event was co-hosted by Laura Burdese, vice president of marketing and communications at Bulgari who, along with the house’s creative director Lucia Silvestri, is among the 62% of women in management positions in the company.

The Roman luxury jewelry house’s efforts to empower women include a series of global activations, including its Aurora Awards, created in 2016 to celebrate women in their field of work, or to foster scientific talent. women of the future thanks to the support of Rockefeller University, by creating the Bulgari Women & Science grant in research on Covid-19.

A home of LVMH, Bulgari’s efforts are helping to improve the conglomerate’s gender equality work. Between 2007 and 2021, the percentage of women holding key positions within LVMH rose from 23% to 44%, with the Group achieving a gender equality score of 92/100 in France in 2021. This score is based on five criteria: salary gaps, salary increase gaps, promotion gaps, the percentage of female employees benefiting from a salary increase on their return from maternity leave and the number of women in 10 highest paying jobs.

However, while efforts by individual companies, national laws and increased social pressure aim to improve gender equality, gaps persist inside and outside global corporations. Europe leads major markets in representation of cis women on corporate boards, but its representation at executive and management levels has not improved much. For example, market watchdog Consob revealed that female CEOs make up just 2.5% of total market capitalization on the Milan Stock Exchange.

Despite the stubborn inequalities that prevail, McKinsey & Co. reports that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on leadership teams are 21% more likely to outperform in terms of profitability and 27% more likely to have higher value creation.

Now BoF is sharing some key insights and learnings on the topics covered by the world leaders in attendance, such as Moda Operandi, OTB, New Guards Group, Moncler and Hearst UK.

External support for women: activations and activism

The luxury and fashion industries are no strangers to acting as spokespersons for women’s rights, from retailers like Net-a-Porter launching capsule collections for International Women’s Day, to brands like Victoria’s Secret embrace a greater representation of women on its catwalk, with a new women’s front including soccer star Megan Rapino and plus-size model Paloma Elsesser.

Indeed, as more companies take positions in favor of social protection and justice movements, the need to back public statements with genuine business practices is crucial – both for consumers for an alignment authentic brand, but also for recruitment and retention within.

“The reason I chose to work for [my company] is that they really believe [in female empowerment] every day, and it’s a duty, we have to push for it,” said one participant, while another shared the story of a colleague’s decision to quit a job that offered no appropriate breastfeeding facilities.

Additionally, only 23% of female employees believe their employers are effective at addressing workplace bullying, according to BoF’s Fashion Employee Survey in 2019, and only 54% of female employees believe their company’s employees are treated with dignity and respect. This drops to 47% of those who identify as a minority.

“I like this idea of ​​denunciation, but done in a very grounded way. So, I think we have to move away from hysteria, aggression and violence, verbal, emotional, towards things that we don’t know. We disagree. This needs to be dismantled, because then you are fighting an injustice with an immoral wrong,” said another participant.

Internal alignment: leadership and people strategies

In 2022, leadership equity is still lacking – and the problems start lower in the corporate food chain. Typically, for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted. As a result, men tend to far outnumber women at manager level, meaning there are fewer women to promote to higher levels – and this may impact how women treat each other.

“We will do everything to be seen and rewarded by [a patriarchal society]. Then, at every stage of our lives – motherhood and companionship – they pit us against each other, and that’s why we [feel we] have to apologize for the natural right to bring a human being into the world,” said one participant.

You don’t need the whole room to be a woman, just enough of it, who can make enough of an impression and stand up for what is transparency and compensation.

This issue lends itself to the increased retention of working mothers and the gender pay gap, which Eurostat says stands at 84% in the EU and has changed little in the last decade. In the United States, in 2018, women earned 85% of what men earned. A BoF survey in 2019 also found that 45% of women in fashion disagree that they receive fair pay for their work, compared to just 30% of men.

“You don’t need the whole room [to be] woman, but who has just enough, who can make a pretty good impression and stand up for what transparency and compensation is, and watch [at] what is a caring place based on our values ​​and what kind of work culture are we going to tolerate,” said another participant.

Beyond Headquarters: Social Wellbeing in Supply Chains

According to the non-profit organization Clean Clothes Campaign, global fashion supply chains employ around 60 million workers, around 80% of whom are women. Garment workers in Bangladesh alone produce more than $30 billion worth of clothing for Western retailers.

While some participants expressed an argument for not manufacturing goods in Third World countries, others suggested that the focus should be on improving conditions for workers based in developing countries.

“You need legislation because if you look at it from an environmental point of view, […] [we need] to make sure it’s verified,” one participant said. The conversation has shifted to the idea of ​​factories “branding” themselves, so they are directly aligned to a brand from the start for greater transparency and accountability.

“I’m waiting for greenwashing”, said one participant, “But the strategy […] showcasing the supply chain and helping them to market and build awareness – that’s an important decision to make if you’re a high-street mega brand.

The rights and issues of supply chain workers also start closer to home. For a white paper written by BoF on the workplace gender gap in fashion in 2019, Kering’s sustainability program director shared the analysis the group conducted on the experience of women in chains supply chain for Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Pomellato and Kering Eyewear in Italy.

More than 800 workers – 70% of whom were women – were surveyed and found that motherhood was seen by one as a barrier to getting and keeping a job, and almost a quarter of women described inappropriate hiring practices for pregnancy or family reasons. considerations.

The panel discussion ended with a focus on the importance of helping the communities in which brands operate, all over the world. Participants spoke of the need to support mothers and communities near factories or childcare facilities.

Indeed, while luxury brands may not have as large a global footprint as most fast fashion retailers or big name brands, as one participant pointed out, they are “thought leaders” and , therefore, they should help lead the charge to support women’s empowerment across the supply chain.