There is an imbalance across the world where women are underrepresented in the decision-making roles in business. This has been analysed, pointed out, and is continually gaining momentum for possible change. And the fashion industry is no different. Recent articles have pointed out that the proportion of women in executive positions of fashion companies sits at a disappointing 17% , and have also revealed the gender price gap on cosmetics and garments.
The abovementioned 17% was taken from the BoF 500 for 2015, a reliable index of the most important individuals across all sections of the fashion industry. Since this list begun in 2013, this 17% has been consistent and not dissimilar to Fortune 500 companies where women’s representation in leadership has remained at just under 17% for eight years running. So whilst there’s a lot of talk on “empowerment” and a context for gaining momentum for possible change, this phrase is intentionally pathetic because so is the change.
So why single out the fashion industry? Fashion acts as a social barometer of society at large, and these paralleled statistics conveniently serve to support this idea. But there’s something else to point out. The fashion industry is profoundly associated with women, both stereotypically and in reality where the womenswear market is worth over $200 billion more than menswear. If the obvious moral support for equality is put to the side for a moment, this bias towards women as the major fashion consumers makes the 17% just embarrassing.
Hiring women in decision-making roles is clearly a good business decision.
But I better avoid making things emotional. And anyway, when morality and embarrassment aren’t enough to incite change, there’s a cold, hard, rational, economic argument for gender diversity in leadership positions. According to the European Commission, ‘women control about 70% of global consumer spending decisions. More women in management positions can therefore provide a broader insight in economic behaviour and consumer choices.’ Hiring women in decision-making roles is clearly a good business decision.
In the recent Autumn/Winter 2015 of System Magazine, Alexander Fury pointed out that ‘Phoebe Philo’s Celine [is] arguably the single most influential fashion brand of the past half-decade.’ I would immediately add Prada and Comme des Garçons – and to a lesser extent Marni and Sacai – to a list of brands directing the vision of womenswear in recent years, all of which, not coincidentally, have women as their Creative Directors. Who knew that women who design for women would lead the womenswear market? The recent appointment of Maria Grazia Chirui as Dior’s new Artistic Director (the first ever woman in this role) indicates that maybe this idea is catching on, despite men still accounting for 82 of 120 designers in the BoF 500.
In this moment where more attention is on women, feminism, and inverting the gaze (just look at Dazed Digital on any given day and you’ll know what I’m talking about), at the very least it seems like a good marketing opportunity to put women at the top of fashion companies. And perhaps this hyped moment will fade, but as long as women keep wearing clothing, the value of women in leadership positions in fashion companies will certainly not.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
Title image by Victor Pattyn, for the editorial The Observatory shot exclusively for Polimodamag