Fashion has shockingly few female CEOs

Something is off in the fashion business. Say a woman and a man who graduate school with comparable educations, grade point averages, and internships enter the fashion industry at the same time. As they start moving up the ranks, everything is fine for a while. But eventually, the woman is much more likely to get stuck in middle management while the man continues to rise.

As a consequence, while there are plenty of women in middle management roles in fashion, just 12.5% of clothing companies in the Fortune 1000 today have female CEOs, according to “Unraveling the fabric ceiling,” a report by the global accounting and consulting firm PwC. That’s less than companies in the aerospace and defense industries, which are about 20% female-led, and financial services, where 18% of companies have women as their chief executives.

The discrepancy exists despite the obvious fact that women are the main audience and biggest spenders on fashion. Even by modest estimates, “women make some 80% of all fashion-related purchasing decisions—representing as much as $15 trillion—not just for themselves but for a much wider circle of family and friends, especially spouses and children,” PwC notes. Even so, among 61 womenswear companies in the Fortune 1000, 75% had mostly male corporate teams.

What gives? That’s the question PwC set out to answer.

The problems

The report documents a number of structural barriers preventing women from getting into the top jobs, even though government and industry data show that nearly 80% of students at fashion schools are women. And data shows that there’s good reason to put them in charge. PwC notes that “among apparel companies in the Fortune 1000 (including apparel retailers), female-led companies are almost twice as profitable as companies with male CEOs.”

Yet according to PwC’s analysis, while companies are spending billions on diversity training and promoting the need for diversity, CEOs are too often failing to make concrete commitments on diversity, and companies aren’t establishing metrics by which they can measure success. Statements of commitment to equality are nice, but they’re no substitute for results. Company pipelines also aren’t working: the report found that just 25% of female CEOs got there by rising up through the company, compared to 54% of male CEOs. In the clothing industry, men have typically gotten into executive training programs in higher numbers than women, PwC pointed out.

Women can suffer from institutional blind spots and unconscious bias within companies as well. Men may not recognize (paywall) that women are underrepresented in top positions, for instance, and companies on the whole can overlook the need for internal change. The way women themselves are socialized contributes, too. Women often won’t apply for a job unless they meet 100% of the requirements, where men will apply if they meet 60%, creating a so-called confidence gap. Plus, women pay the price when they have children—their pay and their rate of advancement suffer for the duration of their careers.

PwC based its analysis on interviews with current and former CEOs, insights from experts on diversity and inclusion, and a variety of data. It’s not the first to notice how few women are making it to the C-suite in fashion. Last year, a study conducted by Glamour magazine in partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America and McKinsey & Company consulting group similarly found that women in fashion are hitting a wall mid-career.

The solutions

There are steps companies can take to solve these problems. First off, leadership needs to live up to its name. “There’s no substitute for the tide-changing influence of a committed CEO,” PwC writes. A board that’s balanced between genders can also help make balance within the company a priority.

And it’s critical that companies measure progress. Vague goals aren’t going to be as effective as setting clear diversity targets at every level of the company, and then supporting programs to make sure those targets are met. The report recommends giving “teeth to targets” by holding people accountable for hitting trackable goals (it doesn’t offer any suggested penalties; companies will have to decide what’s appropriate on their own).

Bias training for staff is also useful to ensure staff are spotting it where it appears, and companies should review how they handle hiring and promotions, as well as investigate any anomalies they see. If women are leaving the company more often than men, or not getting promotions at similar rates, the company should be asking why. Tools such as surveys and interviews with employees, including exit interviews, can help.

For employees who have families, companies can work out “nonlinear” career paths so those who need to juggle their duties at home and in the office aren’t being penalized for it. They should also offer flexible work arrangements and family-friendly policies—for men as well as women. When men use their family leave and take advantage of work-from-home policies to care for kids, it helps counter the stigma against women doing the same.

Individuals have their own part to play. Men can take the time to understand their own biases and blindspots, and be willing to mentor junior female colleagues. Women can raise each other up, and make it a point to ask for the things they need.

These actions aren’t just for companies to consider when they get around to it. They’re necessary now. They can help attract and retain talent, making businesses more profitable and innovative.

They’re also the right thing to do. Companies today are expected to stand for a set of values. Those values start from within.


Rihanna set to become LVMH’s first black female designer – reports


Rihanna at the the Met Museum’s Costume Institute benefit on 7 May 2018. Photograph: Carl Timpone/BFA/REX/Shutterstock

Rihanna is reportedly about to make history as the first black female to head up a fashion brand at the world’s largest luxury conglomerate, LVMH.

It would be the first new fashion house the group, which owns Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Givenchy, has launched since Christian Lacroix in 1987.

The new brand is expected to take the singer’s last name, Fenty, which she uses for her make-up and lingerie businesses. Speculation was fuelled this week when she stepped out in an oversized pair of sunglasses with the brand’s logo visible on the side.

Rihanna has filed a lawsuit against her father, Ronald Fenty, in a dispute over the use of the Fenty name by their respective companies. The lawsuit stated he “egregiously and fraudulently misrepresented to third parties and the public that their company … is affiliated with Rihanna”. Rihanna is asking for a legal injunction on the use of the Fenty name, as well as unspecified damages.

The deal would be a shrewd business move for LVMH, which has been courting the singer for some time. While she worked on a capsule collection of sunglasses in 2015 for LVMH’s Dior, she collaborated with Puma in 2016, generating $1bn in sales for the sportswear brand.

In 2017, LVMH lured her back to collaborate on her make-up line, Fenty Beauty. The range, which was praised for encompassing a wide range of skin tones, reportedly made $100m in sales within 40 days and was named as one of Time Magazine’s 25 best inventions that year.

Her lingerie line, Savage x Fenty, which launched in May 2017, has enjoyed huge success and acclaim for its inclusivity. Pitched as the antidote to existing underwear brands such as Victoria’s Secret, which has been accused of being culturally out of touch and objectifying women, the TechStyle Fashion Group-backed brand includes sizes ranging from from XS to 3XL and features plus-size models in its campaigns.

“I accept all of the bodies,” Rihanna told US Vogue last year. “I’m not built like a Victoria’s Secret girl, and I still feel very beautiful and confident in my lingerie.” TechStyle’s CEO told the trade publication WWD at the time that he chose Rihanna because she was “the right partner to bring instant credibility and exposure” to the brand.

 Rihanna at the Louis Vuitton show during the Paris men’s fashion week on 21 Jun 2018. Photograph: Laurent VU/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

While the details of her new fashion brand remain under wraps, its concept is a reflection of the state of play in the fashion industry. Established and heritage brands are increasingly teaming up with high-profile celebrities such as Rihanna – who has 67 million Instagram followers – to work on collaborations and endorse products thanks to the influence they hold over the lucrative “Generation Z” consumer market.

The Kardashian family are another prolific example of this and have been tapped by several fashion houses, including Calvin Klein, all eager to attract their combined 508.7 million social media followers.

Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty.
 Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty make-up line was praised for incorporating a wide range of skin tones. Photograph: Caroline McCredie/Getty Images for Fenty Beauty by Rihanna

It would also signal a further evolution in what it takes to head up a fashion house in the 21st century. Like Virgil Abloh, who was appointed as the artistic director of LVMH’s flagship brand Louis Vuitton last year, Rihanna has no formal fashion training. Abloh’s first Vuitton collection is selling 30% faster than the much-hyped collaboration with Supreme from 2017.

Abloh’s mentor Kanye West is another example of a successful musician-to-designer transition. Aside from his claims that his clothing brand Yeezy “will become the biggest apparel company in human history”, it was reported last year that his brand had received a $1.5bn valuation.

Virgil Abloh.
 Like Virgil Abloh, who was appointed as the artistic director of LVMH’s flagship brand Louis Vuitton last year, Rihanna has no formal fashion training. Photograph: Swan Gallet/WWD/REX/Shutterstock

The launch of Rihanna’s brand could go some way to answering calls for more diversity among fashion’s leaders. Last year, she became the first black woman to be on the September cover, traditionally the largest and most important edition of the magazine, of British Vogue.

“A fearless music-industry icon and businesswoman, when it comes to that potent mix of fashion and celebrity, nobody does it quite like her,” said the editor-in-chief, Edward Enninful, of Rihanna.