At Abercrombie & Fitch Co., we have been on a Diversity & Inclusion journey for more than 11 years. Over that time, we have implemented initiatives that have resulted in workforce diversity increases of more than 400 percent, recruited associates who contribute to inclusive behaviors, and developed leaders who under- stand the moral imperative and the business case for D&I.
Over the last decade, we have learned several important lessons.
Understanding Exclusion is Key
We cannot forget that all human beings have an innate fear of exclusion, one that shapes our behaviors and decisions from a young age. This fear is the reason my childhood self refused to have birthday parties; I had an overwhelming anxiety that no one would attend. This fear was not caused by some deep understanding of my racial or gender identities; but rather the simple, yet significant insecurity that I did not fit in.
It is because of these types of insecurities, not necessarily framed in the traditional D&I jargon, such as ethnicity or gender, that companies must create and maintain work environments where everyone feels included. At A&F Co., D&I is woven into everything we do. Every single associate is respected and has a place and voice within our community.
Beyond our associates, we know that we must intentionally create inclusive environments in our stores and the communities where we conduct business. We know that our core customers frown on exclusion, champion diversity, and desire to shop with socially responsible companies aligned with their values. Our stores focus on the total customer experience; displaying diversity in marketing, finding opportunities to make each individual engaging with our brands feel welcome, and being actively involved in our diverse global community.
In keeping with this focus, for the past four years we have engaged in an anti-bullying campaign, we support safe spaces for LGBTQ students, and we partner with organizations focused on providing opportunity to disadvantaged and underrepresented groups. To support that commitment, all full-time associates receive an additional paid day to volunteer with an organization of their choosing.
Additionally, it is a priority for us to ensure that our external partners align with our values. We work closely with vendors to hold them accountable for their actions within the D&I space. For example, we track our law firms and help support those that have opportunities to improve, while we may cut ties with others that do not align with our D&I philosophy.
More Than Training
Through the ongoing development of our D&I program, we came to understand and respond to the limitations of training. There are benefits to training including; group interaction that fosters an inclusive mindset, the ability to gain knowledge, and for some, an awareness and call to change their biases. However, as we invest in training, we know that to make effective change, we must do more.
From the inception of our D&I department, there has been an intimate partnership between D&I, HR, Legal, communications and the Store Organization. This partnership created a symbiotic balance between those focused on compliance and numbers, and those focused on engagement and retention. Through regular meetings, we address concerns in real time and create robust, practical policies that address issues that impact our inclusion efforts. Additionally, we hold all associates accountable in their performance reviews for aligning with our culture and values, in which D&I is intricately woven. We use policies and other forms of accountability to influence diversity and inclusion where training and development on its own may not be sufficient for lasting change.
It is our mission to ensure that each associate and customer feels included, respected, and empowered. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. has made significant progress and we are ready to continue our journey knowing that the benefits of an effective D&I program are without bounds, as well as the right thing to do.