Forget animal prints and Dad sneakers — in the shoe industry, diversity might just be the hottest new trend.
So while many companies are espousing ambitious goals about balancing their internal ranks through greater inclusion, when it comes to which ones are actually making good on those objectives, it remains a mixed bag.
When D’Wayne Edwards, founder of Pensole Footwear Design Academy took the stage with FN senior digital editor Charlie Carballo at FN Platform in Las Vegas on Tuesday, he said that for roughly a decade, his organization has aided athletic footwear companies with their diversity efforts. This has taken the form of training and developing minority sneaker designers and creating a pipeline into footwear for underrepresented groups. But as some firms work to overcome their shortcomings, Edwards said he has encouraged his students and other mentees to take ownership of their own career paths so that they’re always able to make a strong case for their worth as they aim to climb the ladder.
In that regard, when it comes to pay equity, the onus, said Edwards, can be “a two-way street.”
“I think it’s an employee’s obligation to always understand their value,” explained Edwards. “So if you’re a designer, for instance, you should know how many pairs of the shoes [you designed] were sold. You should also make an effort to increase your value through the knowledge you’ve acquired every single year you’re on that job. You want to make yourself undeniable so that if that company denies you, based on your knowledge and information, go somewhere else.”
Similarly, Valérie Martin, VP of communications, culture and CSR at Aldo Group, said minorities should do their research, before they get into a company, to try to identify whether they’ll enjoy pay equity and other important intangibles like “belonging” and a welcoming culture.
“[Prospective employees] need to do your homework [in advance] — don’t just look at the company’s website, look at social media,” explained Martin, who also sat down with Carballo to tackle “Diversity Matters.” “Of course, you can always find some drama on [any] company, if you look deep enough — but you can [still] get a feel for how people are welcomed.”
What’s more, added Martin, since diversity has become a “mainstream trend” and is “politically correct to talk about,” most companies’ websites will include some sort of diversity and inclusion statement.
“They’ll all tell you they’re very diverse and believe in diversity,” she added. “But in order to know what it’s really like inside the company, you have to ask someone who works there.”
FN Platform is being held at the Las Vegas Convention Center Aug. 12–14.
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