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Luxury brands: Are you doing enough to combat LGBTQ+ glass ceilings?

Published 7 June 2023 in Luxury • 5 min read

Companies across the luxury industry increasingly proclaim inclusive values – but those claims are undermined when LGBTQ+ individuals still face glass ceilings, says Stéphane JG Girod.

Luxury brands often enjoy a reputation for diversity, equity, and inclusion that run far ahead of less progressive corporations. But is that reputation truly deserved? 

The luxury industry comprises a myriad of sectors: from beauty and cosmetics to wines, private jets, travel, and automobiles, and personal luxury goods including fashion, accessories, watches, and jewelry. 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 and the professionalization – not to mention 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” in the traditionally more conservative watch and automobile sectors, I am also questioning whether they have progressed at all. 

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The fundamental question is whether companies’ claimed commitment to inclusion stops before talent reaches more senior management levels. Indeed, in multiple sectors, like beauty, jewelry, and fashion, women make up the majority of the workforce on the shop floor, and we might see LGBTQ+ employees, however they identify, in prominent roles – e.g., working as chief creative officers – but is that merely a shop front concealing a lack of more diverse representation higher up in the management structure?  Are senior managers able to bring their authentic selves to work? 

To avoid complacency, CEOs need to consistently assess whether their entire workforce, including its management tiers, consistently enjoys equal opportunities – particularly for LGBTQ+ employees. 

It is time for leaders across the luxury industry to ask themselves some tough questions about whether LGBTQ+ employees face a glass ceiling in their organization – how they can find out and what they can do to smash it.

Yet there are problems in assessing the issue – not least being the lack of visibility. Few organizations have representative LGBTQ+ data; LGBTQ+ data is collected through self-disclosure only and therefore not fully reliable. Indeed, some employees opt not to widely disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity for a variety of reasons, including safety.  

This complexity does not mean CEOs are excused for turning a blind eye to the possibility that their organizations are failing LGBTQ+ employees. The reputational risks of failing to live up to claimed brand values are too great – as are the benefits of genuine diversity and inclusion for better understanding and serving diverse customers, stakeholders, and partners. Given that the global spending power of the LGBTQ+ community is an estimated $3.9tn annually, the prize is substantial. Besides, as talent is scarcer, sectors that are known for their lack of LGBTQ+ inclusion all the way to the top might lose valuable recruits.

It is time for leaders across the luxury industry to ask themselves some tough questions about whether LGBTQ+ employees face a glass ceiling in their organization, how they can find out, and what they can do to smash it. 

Five questions for CEOs to ask themselves to assess their company’s LGBTQ+ inclusivity

Leaders can benefit from asking these questions to start meaningful conversations and send impactful messages to the LGBTQ+ community and beyond; to reflect on their personal stance and whether they are role-modeling inclusion enough, including in their top team and more senior ranks; and thirdly to identify and give scale to potential hurdles and opportunities.  


Stéphane J.G Girod

Stéphane J. G. Girod

Professor of Strategy and Organizational Innovation

Stéphane J.G. Girod is Professor of Strategy and Organizational Innovation at IMD. His research, teaching and consulting interests center around agility at the strategy, organizational and leadership levels in response to disruption. At IMD, he is also Program Director of Reinventing Luxury Lab and Program Co-Director of Leading Digital Execution.

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