Why Fashion Is Suffering From a Lack of Female Leadership

Take a look at the nation’s biggest fashion schools and you’ll see an overwhelming number of female students working their way toward a degree that will allow them to join the industry. In fact, it should be fair to say that rare is the shortage of women filling up entry-level jobs from fashion PR to designer houses.

But when it comes to leadership roles, the numbers paint a different picture, with one Business of Fashion report revealing that only 14 percent of major brands are run by a female executive.

That statistic is cited in a new study called “The Glass Runway,” undertaken by Glamour and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which examines an industry that largely caters to women but is disproportionately male at the top ranks. With the help of consulting firm McKinsey & Company, the magazine and fashion organization surveyed 535 professionals about their ambitions, opportunities and setbacks.

“You would think that was one industry where we wouldn’t have a problem… but not very many women are CEOs,” CFDA chairman and fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg said during her opening address at a panel discussion for the study’s findings on Tuesday. “It’s not just about talking about it; it’s also about taking action.”

According to the study, the equality gap is enabled by four barriers — the first of which is awareness. Although 100 percent of women interviewed said that gender inequality is a problem in the industry, that figure for men amounted to less than 50 percent.

Other barriers for women include the constraints of work-life balance; ambiguous success criteria, with many women paid and promoted less than their male counterparts; and a lack of mentorship.

However, Glamour and the CFDA posit that this gender disparity can be addressed through several management actions, including the implementation of programs geared toward women’s empowerment as well as increasing transparency and clarity of evaluations, promotion and compensation.

“We’re a creative industry, and I think creative people have a strong sense of humanity, and you see that in how we interact with each other,” CFDA president and CEO Steven Kolb said in the study. “Now we need to look at how to translate that to more tangible opportunities for women in their careers and in their lives so that they can continue to flourish and grow.”

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