Fashion Fails Women in Leadership

While many think the fashion industry is dominated by women, men are behind the labels being worn.

Fashion is stereotypically seen as women’s world, and one would naturally assume that this industry is run by women. But according to the World Economic Forum, the consumer base of the fashion industry is 85 percent female while leadership positions are dominated by men. The disparity of the gender ratio in the top administrative and creative positions in the fashion world is shocking, to say the least.

As society strives towards gender equality and the empowerment of women, it is saddening to see the industry, which was pioneered by women, stifled by systemic sexism in a patriarchal career field. Even worse, while there is no dearth of female talent and employees in the industry, with women comprising 68 percent of the workforce, only 25 percent make it as board members.

What is stopping women from rising to the top? Harold Brooks, Guess visiting professor of Fashion and Fashion Business at Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU, attributes this to the traditional gendered social role of women as homemakers, which interferes with their ability to sustain rigorous careers.

“Maintaining a work-life balance is challenging for everyone. The pressures of maintaining a family as well as a very demanding career has greater pressure on women than it has on men, unfortunately,” Brooks said.

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On the other hand, men, who are deemed to be more authoritative and risk-taking, are seen as better suited to be creative heads and CEOs of fashion houses and brands, especially since these brands have merged with multinational conglomerates such as LVHM and Kering. Presently, only three of LVHM’s  and two of Kering’s brands are headed by women. The lack of female leadership is disheartening, especially when women make up the majority of the graduating class at fashion schools.

Talent, hard work and striking a balance between work and home, rather than gender, should be the key factors in determining a person’s success in the fashion industry — or any other industry for that matter. Phoebe Philo, the designer and creative director for Celine, is the perfect example of a woman who decided to find a creative balance between the two. Then there is Diane von Furstenberg, who single-handedly created her eponymous fashion empire in New York City in 1972 while raising two daughters.

“It is very important for a woman to have a family and equally important to have an identity outside of the home,” von Furstenberg said to the Business of Fashion.

Although men have dominated the fashion industry for many years, change is coming. Recent shifts, such as the appointments of Bouchra Jarrar at Lanvin and Maria Grazia Chiuri at Christian Dior — the first time a female designer has led the storied French brand — are a sign for optimism.

“I believe in today’s society, people are elevated and moved to positions of authority based on their talent and work. No longer are they pigeon-holed because of their gender,” Brooks said, who strongly believes that one’s success is predicated by talent and the ability to stay in power.

Designers are valued, first and foremost, for their creativity, novelty and ability; gender should not be a part of this equation. While it is true that women are a minority in this industry, it is their responsibility to push their limits and believe in themselves in order for the the world to realize their worth.

“My mother always taught me that fear is not an option and it turned out to be very good career advice. Know what you want and go for it!” von Furstenberg said in the same Business of Fashion article. In the 21st century, women are no longer obligated to assume domestic roles. It is up to them to find a balance between their personal and work life.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday Sept. 19 print edition. Email Vrinda Anand at [email protected]

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