Why Macy’s Bold Diversity Plan Is a Challenge to Its Competitors

Macy’s Inc. is taking aggressive steps to boost diversity and inclusion across its ranks, among consumers and with external stakeholders.

And it’s hoping other retail companies follow suit.

The department store last year made a bold statement in naming its first chief diversity officer, Shawn Outler — preceding several other fashion firms who have since added CDOs — and has now revealed how some of its biggest D&I objectives are taking shape, as well as new end goals for its work.

Macy’s announced Tuesday a “five-part approach” that includes an overhaul of its “Customer Bill of Rights;” a requirement for 50% representation of gender/gender identity, ethnicity, age, size and disabled persons in its advertising by 2020; 30% ethnic diversity at the senior director level and above by 2025; and a plan to achieve diverse supplier spend of at least 5% by 2021. The fifth component of this approach has a philanthropic hook: Macy’s said it will launch economic development partnerships this year in at least five cities, in collaboration with The Workshop at Macy’s, The Market @ Macy’s and Story, which it acquired last year.

“At Macy’s, diversity and inclusion are essential to our culture and core values. Our mission is to embed D&I into how we think, act and operate by fostering an inclusive culture and an environment that inspires, reflects and embraces everyone,” said Macy’s chairman and CEO Jeff Gennette. “We hope the steps we are taking will encourage others to reaffirm their commitments to inclusion for all.”

In a May interview with FN, Outler first unveiled the department store’s plans to offer targeted leadership training for minority employees via Mosaic, a 12-month program for a “selected group of top-talent” managers and directors of African-American, Hispanic-Latinx, Native American and Asian descent. As it seeks to improve ethnic diversity at the top of its ranks, Mosaic will play a significant role, the company noted.

“One of our biggest challenges is twofold: We want to increase our representation at the leadership level; we also want to stem the attrition of our underrepresented groups at the director-manager level,” Outler told FN in May, noting that she sees Mosaic as a fitting program to overcome both challenges.

On the supplier side, Outler (who was previously EVP of its licensed businesses, food services and multicultural initiatives before taking on the CDO role) also highlighted a minority-focused development program she started at the company nearly 10 years ago: The Workshop at Macy’s, which is designed to nurture and support minority- and women- owned businesses.

“The workshop is my baby,” she said in May. “It’s about broadening the diversity of our supplier base and expanding the uniqueness of what we offer to our customers — and nurturing diverse talent in our industry. It’s good business. It’s building a pipeline.”

macy's shawn outler
Macy’s chief diversity officer Shawn Outler.
CREDIT: Andrew Morales

Macy’s accelerated push comes at a critical time for the broader retail industry. In just the past year and a half, high-profile brands like Adidas, Nike, Gucci and Prada have faced marked criticism for perceived diversity and inclusion missteps. And since the start of 2019, fashion firms have seemingly started a wave of diversity-focused hiring: Under Armour in January hired Tchernavia Rocker as its new chief people and culture officer. Gucci announced in August that it named Renée Tirado its first global head of diversity, equity and inclusion, and Chanel soon followed suit with its first diversity executive.

Now, Macy’s — which also showed in a sustainability report this week that its board of directors has reached gender parity and is about 25% ethnically diverse — said it hopes its newly expanded diversity goals will “help set the tone and influence inclusivity standards and practices across the retail industry.”

Other key steps Macy’s said it would take include changing the way it casts models for its ads, increasing diverse representation in vendor-provided imagery, and increasing representation among hired stylists, photographers, directors, producers, agencies, content providers and event partners. By way of its Supplier Diversity Program and other initiatives, it also aims to increase expenditures with suppliers who bring “unique merchandise and perspectives,” contribute to the economic health of local communities and help grow the number of diverse suppliers in the retail industry.

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