Gender equality in the workplace continues to be an issue, and the fashion industry is no exception.
In September, Business of Fashion reported that just 40 percent of womenswear brands were being led by female designers — though there is a clear pipeline of female talent, with 85 percent of the students currently enrolled at FIT being women. And across industries, as widely reported on last month’s International Women’s Day, women are still being paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men.
In our latest Confessions, in which we grant anonymity for honesty, we chat with a female who has worked at a popular menswear brand (where there’s an equal male-female split) for the past three years.
Did you notice the different treatment of men and women from Day 1?
It took me a while because it’s not something I really looked for. My current job is my first real job. You always think, “Sexism? Oh, that doesn’t happen anymore.” When I got to the workplace, I started to see some things. The men are getting opportunities the women aren’t. It seems like women have to prove themselves before they get that promotion, whereas men get it just for doing their job.
Do men make more money?
It’s more just the titles. There’s only one woman who’s head of a department out of all the departments — and there are eight. And there are no women on the C-suite. Our new CEO came in about a year and a half ago, and he’s appointed four heads of departments since he came in, and they’ve all been men. I keep getting these executive announcement emails, and I’m like [groans]. It makes you feel like there’s nowhere to go in the company, because you’re feeling it on your level and then you’re seeing it at the highest level, too. It just feels like there’s nowhere forward.
Have things worsened with the new CEO?
Well, I don’t know that what he’s doing is intentional, because he is bringing in people that he trusts to turn the company around; they’re all people he’s worked with before. I’m sure it’s just perpetuating itself: It’s always been men [in these positions], so the people he works with and trusts are men.
When did the sexism start affecting you personally?
At one of my first year-end reviews, they told me I was getting a promotion, but they only gave me a 3 percent raise. And I ended up having to fight for that promotion because they didn’t have it on record — and then fighting for more money, because I had taken on so much responsibility. At the time, they told me I was doing the work of someone two levels above me, but I couldn’t skip levels because it would “disturb the peace.” But since then, there have been three men that I’ve seen skip levels, or be double-promoted. It’s really frustrating, because it’s not like they don’t deserve it; I work really closely with these people, so it becomes obvious who does their work and who doesn’t. But the women deserve it, too. It’s just higher standards for women.
So, other women have had similar experiences?
One of my co-workers, a designer, came in with two people above her. They both resigned almost immediately, so she was left alone to carry a whole season by herself, something that’s normally done by three people. She did a really good job. She was promoted later, after she asked for it — but only one level. They brought in a manager above her, who’s this guy who hasn’t really been carrying his weight. Even though he is her manager, she’s the one who’s always checking his work and keeping him in check. And they won’t promote her because he’s right above her. But when one of the male designers in a different section took on more, he was double-promoted. And it happened to another guy, as well: When his boss left, he was double-promoted.
There’s another woman who manages all of the fabric development — she used to have a director above her who left quite a while ago. She was promised a promotion by our head of department like a month and a half ago, and then she got to her review, and she was told, “Never mind, we don’t have any money.” Yet two of the male designers got promotions at the same time. It’s not fair.
What’s the culture like?
Well, this is not something that typically happens, but I just thought the way they handled it was so unconscionable: When that new hire came in to manage my designer friend, he was harassing her, saying really inappropriate things, like, “Oh, you’re so uptight, you need to get laid,” and, “Why don’t you go home with someone in the office so it’s convenient?” “What about this guy?” “What about that guy?” Just shit like that. She finally went to HR, and they did reprimand him for what he was saying, but they also made her apologize to him for being insubordinate. They actually wanted to put her on notice for being insubordinate, and she refused to sign the paper. They asked her not to tell anyone about it to protect his reputation. They’re both still there. She hates him, he seems kind of clueless.
Do people discuss sexism?
We had a town hall meeting a few months ago, where they asked multiple people to present something about what they were doing. I had to present about the project that I’d been working on, and there was one woman from HR and about 12 men presenting. And a few women called it out to me later, like, “Why were there no other women presenting?” I was like, “Because there aren’t any!” Besides me, it was all heads of departments.
At the same meeting, the CEO chose to recognize three random employees for the work they’d done, and it was three guys. Again, they do work hard, but it’s like, try to freakin’ even it out a little! No effort whatsoever.
Are all the women looking for new jobs?
Most are on their last leg there. It’s just so hard to find a job these days. If people find something, they’ll go, but a lot of people have been looking for a long time. I’m leaving the company and the industry soon, and when I go, there will be plenty of people who will be happy to take my position. It’s fashion.
Image via gq.com