The Changemakers: The disruptors driving values-based industry evolution
Head of diversity and inclusion, N.A.
Head of diversity and inclusion was a new position at LVMH when Corey Smith stepped into the role in September 2020. However, he’s quick to note he’d been in talks with the company about potentially signing on since 2019. Covid had simply slowed down the hiring process.
“LVMH was actually very proactive in its search for a D&I executive,” he said. “We were in touch prior to the uptick in all the D&I roles that happened across corporate America, as a reaction to George Floyd’s murder and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
And, he said, the company was already on a “pretty impressive D&I journey,” particularly in terms of gender equity. He pointed to its EllesVMH initiative launched in 2007, established when only 15% of the company’s senior leadership positions were held by women. A goal was set to raise that number to 50% by 2020. Globally, the company fell just short of the target, but the U.S. business reached it.
Smith has spent 25 years in D&I across a variety of industries. He joined LVMH after a 10-year stint at Major League Baseball, which was experience that LVMH valued, due to its comparable business model: Like LVMH, MLB is the parent company of many independently-owned and -operated businesses.
And, according to Smith, coming to luxury as an industry outsider set him up for success: “I got to come in, look at the entire landscape with fresh eyes and begin to solve,” he said. Among the noteworthy moves he made this year was launching a partnership with Harlem’s Fashion Row, putting LVMH’s weight behind the organization’s mission to foster emerging design talents of color.
Where do you sit within the LVMH conglomerate?
“I report to the chief HR officer, Gena Smith. But there are many aspects of D&I, including the HR and people side, the business side, and the branding side. The business side includes the supply chain and the need to be more inclusive in that ecosystem. And around branding, we’re asking: ‘What does the marketing look like? … Are our store employees trained on cultural agility and unconscious bias?’ Branding is the side of the business that is directly facing the customer, so there’s a need to hone in on it. I’m blessed and fortunate that [LVMH leadership] understands that and [allows me to manage] the full lifecycle and be a true diversity and inclusion practitioner, ensuring [D&I] thrives in the organization. I’m not siloed in HR.”
How do you work with LVMH’s individual brands?
“We own 75 maisons, and they’re all different, even the ones that operate in the same sectors. And there’s definitely a wide span. We have some brands that have thousands of global employees and some that just have a couple hundred employees based in the United States. It’s necessary to understand where each of them is in their respective D&I journey, because they’re all at different places. And that’s something we make sure to take our time on. One thing we’ve done is create progress pillars, allowing them to map and measure their own [D&I] journey over time. They can go at their own pace, and it’s basically a checklist so they’re all on the same page.”
You spearheaded LVMH’s year-long partnership with Harlem’s Fashion Row, announced in June. What’s involved?
“We had a relationship with HFR before I walked in the door, but when I went to its 2021 [fashion] show, I was blown away and wanted to do more. It took a year of a lot of hard work, and we had to go to Paris to get the budget approved, but it was [needed] to create a true partnership. Rather than just sponsoring the fashion show, we established a year-long engagement with them: [We supported] their Black History Month Fashion Summit in February, Louis Vuitton took part in their designer retreat, with executives meeting with 75 designers of color, plus Sephora has done stuff with them, and Tiffany & Co. took part in their Icon 360 HBCU Summit. … We want to get as many maisons on board as possible. Another thing that came out of the partnership was LVMH’s launch of the Virgil Abloh Award, honoring [people sharing Abloh’s spirit, brilliance and vision], at HFR’s annual Fashion Show & Style Awards. That’s something we will support every year.”
What other accomplishments were you proud of this year?
“It was the first year LVMH brought the Métiers d’Excellence [training] program to the U.S.: Tiffany & Co. created a two-year apprenticeship to teach people what it is to be an expert craftsman and jewelry maker. It kicked off in September with eight apprentices from all walks of life. Six of eight are women, plus there’s one man and one non-binary, and they represent all types of races. Other maisons will likely become a part of [the program] in 2023. For Tiffany, it’s part of the Atrium it launched this year to [advance opportunities for historically underrepresented communities]. That kicked off with the ‘About Love’ campaign with Jay-Z and Beyoncé and a $2 million commitment to HBCUs. I was also proud of the fact that LVMH walked in the New York City Pride March in June for the first time.”
Overall, what’s your take on D&I within fashion, as it stands?
“Since I first walked in the door, I’ve been talking about the need to shift this idea of the industry being exclusive or for certain people to a narrative that it’s about aspiration. That way, anybody can participate. We all aspire to be better in our lives, and we can aspire to be part of this community. You may not be able to participate now, for whatever reasons, but you aspire to participate. And when you’re able to, you should then be invited and welcomed in. It shouldn’t be exclusionary by any stretch of the imagination.”
Click here to see all 2022 Glossy 50 honorees.