H&M, the Swedish fast-fashion retailer, suffered a major public relations crisis last week when an advertisement depicting a black child modeling a sweatshirt with the slogan “coolest monkey in the jungle” set off a wave of violent protests at its stores in South Africa. The company quickly apologized and removed the ad from all its marketing, but the fallout has not ended: Musicians The Weeknd and G-Eazy have canceled partnerships with the company, activists have called for a global boycott, and the five-year-old model, Liam Mango, and his family have reportedly moved out of their home in Stockholm over “security concerns” after his mother was harshly criticized for defending the company over the controversy.
As part of its damage-control efforts, H&M announced on Wednesday that it had hired its first global head of diversity, the Associated Press reported:
In an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday, the retailer said Global Manager for Employee Relations Annie Wu, a company veteran, would be the new global leader for diversity and inclusiveness. The retailer said on Facebook that it’s “commitment to addressing diversity and inclusiveness is genuine, therefore we have appointed a global leader, in this area, to drive our work forward.”
At Quartz, Lynsey Chutel explains why the ad touched such a nerve in South Africa, and what other global brands can learn from this controversy:
According to our research at CEB, now Gartner, even though 85 percent of CEOs believe it enhances business performance, only one third of employees are satisfied with diversity and inclusion at their organization, while nearly 60 percent of heads of HR believe their D&I strategy is ineffective. Many organizations are focused on making their cultures more inclusive and ensuring compliance with evolving legislation, but aren’t always seeing the results they had hoped for.
At our recent summit for HR executives in Johannesburg, more than 100 HR executives from 45 organizations had the opportunity to share ideas and hear from a panel of their peers how progressive organizations in South Africa are addressing the challenge of enhancing and evolving their D&I strategies.
1) Bring the Outside In
When defining what successful D&I looks like, our participants highlighted ideas and innovations, deliberate dialogue and co-creation, and thinking about diversity in all aspects: clients, products, and employees alike. The more integrated these are, the greater the impact. Many companies find that hiring employees from more diverse backgrounds gives them a way to engage new markets through new products, ideas or services. By bringing new perspectives into the organization, companies were better able to address the needs of both employees and customers.
2) Tackle Systems and Processes
Organizations that have made progress on D&I stressed the value of accelerated development programs that have yielded results in nurturing internal talent, including C-suite executives developed from within the organization; as well as the need to make hard decisions such as suspending the promotion process because the pool of candidates was not diverse enough.
Even though 91 percent of S&P global companies offer D&I training with 46 percent of organizations conducting their D&I training to mitigate unconscious bias, but as one participant shared, “It’s hard to catch bias in the moment.” One way to mitigate bias is by creating accountability for decision makers. For example, rather than expecting a hiring manager to make unbiased decisions independently, organizations are using a diverse panel when interviewing candidates. (To learn more, CEB Recruiting Leadership Council members can read our research on Driving Diversity Through Talent Acquisition.)