Walpole Comment | Why Diversity and Inclusion must be central to a luxury sustainability strategy

At the beginning of this year, Walpole launched the British Luxury Sustainability Manifesto, of which many Walpole members are signatories. It described four pillars of luxury sustainability: leading the transition towards a circular economy; safeguarding the environment and natural resources; guiding partners and suppliers towards sustainable practices; and advocating equal and respectful working conditions. Underpinning each pillar were twelve collective ambitions – the priorities for British luxury brands if we were to move as swiftly as possible towards the goal of making the UK the global benchmark in luxury sustainability.

During the pandemic, sustainability has taken on a new imperative as Walpole members commit to a future vision of building back better. With the spotlight on how globally integrated the business of luxury is, from supply-chain to customer, protecting people and planet has become more important than ever.

Yet it’s the fourth pillar – advocating equal and respectful working conditions, which includes diversity in the workplace – that became one of the most urgent issues during the crisis. Our sustainability manifesto proposed three clear goals for that fourth pillar: All members to demonstrate compliance with human rights and labour laws and pay living wages; 50% senior management from under-represented groups; and to eliminate the median gender pay gap. Much work has already been done on the first and last of those, but the spotlight thrown on under-represented groups by the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this summer made many luxury brands publicly resolve to do better, to take the time to reflect, to learn and to question: It’s now time for words to become deeds.

Walpole established a gender diversity programme a little over three years ago, with the vision of moving the representation of women executives at c-suite from the current 30% to 50% by 2025. The commitment of British luxury’s CEOs to make this happen was extremely encouraging, and the dial has been shifting fast on the median pay gap throughout the workforce. I think we all feel confident that the right progress is being made with the right amount of urgency. But if one includes ethnicity, luxury clearly has some way to go to hit the goal of 50% of senior management from under-represented groups.

The Black Lives Matter moment prompted Walpole to extend the work we had begun with the Women in Luxury programme and we created a diversity and inclusion working group, led by Darren Sital-Singh, who many members will remember from his time on the Walpole Brands of Tomorrow programme. An important insight of the group’s work so far is that, whilst there’s a willingness to do more, there’s a huge absence of data – yet unless we understand where the gaps are currently, we can’t translate the sector’s willingness to do better into meaningful action.

Walpole’s CEO has been writing to member CEOs this week to ask for their help. We have asked that members share with us – in complete confidence – any information on the BAME representation within their brands. We have asked that our member CEOs connect us with their Head of People, or D&I lead, where this role exists, and Jema Avedian (Walpole’s Head of Events and Diversity Champion) will follow up in the first instance.

There are no quick fixes, and Walpole appreciates that there are many urgent priorities for Walpole members right now. Therefore, the aim is to make this as effort free as possible so that Walpole can work to develop this area of the British Luxury Sustainability Manifesto. And in our forthcoming Festival of Luxury Marketing (7th to 11th September), key industry figures like Jamie Gill, CEO of Roksanda and Farrah Storr, Editor in Chief of ELLE, will talk about why it’s important for all creative leaders to champion a broad range of voices.

People have always been at the heart of the sector. Sustainability is now as important a feature of luxury as craftsmanship, and it’s crucial to luxury’s relationship with its customers now and in the future that we make every effort to work for equality in the workplace, equal pay, and a C-Suite that reflects a diverse and inclusive corporate culture.

With Walpole’s Sustainability Working Groups set up in their sector verticals ready to forge forward with the next steps in the strategy we outlined in January, and against a backdrop of all we have learned during the pandemic, the British luxury sector has strong foundations on which to build back better.

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