How Designer Brands Is Tackling Its Corporate Responsibilities

For Designer Brands Inc., success starts from within. The Columbus, Ohio-based company is actively working to create a more diverse, inclusive and equitable environment for not only its employees, but customers as well. At the same time, it’s also introducing more sustainable practices and giving back to the communities it serves through philanthropic support.

To promote these practices, Designer Brands has added more leadership, including Christina Ballenger, who was hired in October 2020 as its first head of DEI. Laura Noonen started as senior director of global compliance in April, another new role that covers trade issues and sustainability.

The company also cultivates these missions at the employee level through Business Resource Groups (BRGs), organized around different diversities; and Community Interest Groups (CIGs), based on shared interests around various business initiatives and goals.

Through the BRGs and CIGs, the firm has developed several initiatives within the DEI space, covering everything from World Mental Health Day to Stop Asian Hate to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, just to name a few.

Additionally, CEO Roger Rawlins signed The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Pledge in January, making a commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and it has been signed by over 2,000 CEOs.

To take action on sustainability, DBI recently engaged with an external consulting firm on its manufacturing base. The consulting group will examine many areas of labor, health and safety, environmental and labor standards from a management perspective. Internally, the company has a CIG called Our Planet that educates and inspires employees to make sustainable choices, both in and outside of the office.

“As a party and an entity in the world, we have no longer just a corporate advantage to explore in the space of sustainability, but a moral obligation,” Noonen said. “And it’s very exciting to be at a company that is fully committed to it again, not just in words, but in actions as well.”

For philanthropy, DBI contributes to a number of organizations and nonprofits that support local communities and align with where the company is headed. DBI Gives, the company’s philanthropic program, has worked with The United Way, Red Cross and Meals on Wheels, plus many more.

It also continues to build on its successful partnership with Soles4Souls. The two have worked together since May 2017 and by November of this year, DBI will have donated 5 million pairs of shoes through Soles4Souls.

“[DBI Gives] is a great way that we are listening to our people,” said Amy Jo Donohew, SVP of human resources. “I don’t go in and tell them where to volunteer — they tell me. So it’s about listening to what the people want to do.”

Though the company has administered all types of corporate social responsibility practices and is actively working to add more, Noonen, Donohew and Ballenger all agree these actions are important for not only the company, but the customers and communities as well.

“There’s no way that we cannot do this work because, at the foundation, we’re people,” Ballenger said. “So if we can’t bring our whole selves to work and leverage our voices to inspire innovation in business practices and strategies and things of that nature, then we will end up being a bit tone deaf and become obsolete.”

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