Luxury brands often enjoy a reputation for diversity, equity and inclusion that run far ahead of more staid corporations. But is that reputation truly deserved?
The luxury industry comprises very varied sectors: from beauty and cosmetics to wines, private jets, travel, and automobiles, and personal luxury goods including fashion, accessories, watches, and jewellery. Yet there are similar trends at play across these sectors, including a shift toward sustainable practices, growing interest in positive impact luxury, and an increasing emphasis on values-driven social objectives – often involving inclusion. If companies hold their values authentically, it is impossible to ignore questions about LGBTQ+ progression.
I began my career working in the luxury fashion industry and often saw LGBTQ executives working as CFOs, chief marketing officers, sales directors, etc. Twenty-five years on, with globalization, the professionalization and the rise of powerful family owners in the industry, what I now see leaves me asking whether the industry has stalled on diversity, equity and inclusion – or even gone into reverse, when it comes to opportunities for LGBTQ individuals at the upper-end of the corporate ladder. Based on the number of LGBTQ executives I see “in the closet” I am also questioning whether the traditionally more conservative watch and automobile sectors have progressed at all.
The fundamental question is whether companies’ claimed commitment to inclusion actually stops before talent reaches more senior management levels. Indeed, in multiple sectors, like beauty, jewellery and fashion, women make the majority of the workforce on the shop floor, and we might see LGBTQ+ employees, men, women and transexuals, in prominent roles – e.g. working as chief creative officers – but is that merely a shopfront concealing a lack of more diverse representation higher up in the management structure? Are senior managers able to bring their own selves to work?
To avoid complacency, CEOs need to consistently assess whether their entire workforce and its management tiers consistently offer equal opportunities for LGBTQ employees.