The fashion industry has made strides in elevating women to leadership roles, but there remains a dearth of female executives at the highest levels.
While women like Maria Grazia Chiuri and Phoebe Philo have risen to the top of major brands (Christian Dior and Céline, respectively), only 8 percent of CEOs in the fashion industry are female. This void of female leadership is by no means exclusive to the fashion industry; the gap across industries has become particularly amplified as of late, thanks to the downfall of several prominent male Hollywood figures for alleged sexual assault. At the Glamour Women of the Year Summit in Brooklyn, New York on Monday, concern over a lack of representation for women across all parts of the industry, from inside the C-suite to behind the camera, was pervasive.
Daniella Vitale, the first female CEO of Barneys, said the biggest challenge in the fashion industry is women still aren’t reaching the top. Even among creative directors of major fashion houses, less than 30 percent are female.
“This story has to be beyond me just being the first female CEO. It really has to be focused on how we change the culture in business today,” she said, speaking at the Summit. “Particularly in my industry and in my own company, that needs to change. And we need to have greater visibility for women to how they can move up.”
Vitale said a major initiative of hers has been to position women internally so they have the resources to reach the highest offices. Her executive committee is now 50 percent female, up from 20 percent when she took over the role in February 2017. Her drive to help other women ascend in the workplace started in the early days of her career, when she was constantly confronted by men doubting her abilities.
“I’d be sitting around a table with my peers, who were also mostly male, and the chairman of the company would look at me and say, ‘Who’s taking care of your children at home?’” she said. “And I’m looking around at all these men who also have children and wondering why he’s not asking them that question.”
Beyond the boardroom, lack of female leadership is being felt across other sectors of the industry, particularly within modeling. Several women have now spoken out against incidents of assault or harassment conducted by prominent photographers — most notably Terry Richardson, who was recently banned from working with several magazines following allegations of exploiting young models.
Model Cameron Russell has been vocal about the rampant harassment in the industry and started a hashtag on Instagram last month, similar to the #MeToo social media movement that has given a voice to victims of sexual assault and harassment. Using the platform, Russell began sharing her stories, which included unwanted touching and advancements by several male leaders in the industry, tagging posts with #MyJobShouldNotInclude.
“In seeking to get behind the gates, I tolerated harm to myself, and I was complacent in an industry that exploits many women — I didn’t think there were alternatives,” Russell said at the Summit. “I thought, to make change, I had to get to the top.”
Discussing the power of social media to propagate change, Instagram’s director of fashion partnerships Eva Chen said the company continues to provide a means to galvanize the masses in ways that weren’t possible before. “Instagram has become a place for women to have their voices heard and to have a ripple effect,” she said.
Beyond using social media as an instrument for change, female industry leaders like Stephanie Phair, CEO of Farfetch, and Laura Kim, creative director of Oscar De La Renta and co-director of MONSE, said there needs to be more concerted efforts toward internal policy changes that benefit women.
For example, Phair said when she was first hired, she publicly praised the company for hiring her at six months pregnant — something that, looking back, shouldn’t have been treated as such a surprise. Farfetch founder Jose Neves has been an advocate for working mothers and maternity leave, she said, and other companies should follow suit.
Likewise, Vitale said salary equality remains an issue she will continue to advocate for, in an attempt to change societal norms around gender and the role of parenting for professionals.
“I hear people say ‘She doesn’t really need to make that much money because her husband makes money,’” she said. “We’re willing to accept the lesser salary because we’re taking our kids to school. Men don’t feel like they deserve a cut in salary because they coach their son’s basketball games.”