US apparel company Levi Strauss & Co. was a diverse organisation on the surface, until it broke down those figures further and found that its minority employees were stuck in the organisation’s lower rungs – now the brand is moving to fix these problems.

“The first step in fixing a problem is admitting you have a problem,” said CEO Chip Bergh, speaking during the World Retail Congress in reference to Levi’s publication, released soon after protests began to proliferate globally in June, of its “diversity problem” and its plan to fix it. (For a full report, read How Levi Strauss & Co is facing up to its diversity problem.)

“On the surface we are a diverse company,” Levi’s wrote, breaking down its workforce as follows:

  • White 37% 
  • Hispanic or Latinx 28%
  • Black or African-American 18%
  • Asian 10%

However, closer examination revealed a “tiered system” in which Black people made up only 5% of the firm’s corporate (and therefore high income) staff. “Our racial diversity is concentrated in the retail stores, distribution centres and lower levels of our corporate structure, and we get dramatically whiter as we move up,” Bergh acknowledged.

The reality of Levi’s figures was suddenly rubbing up against a brand and company history that made much of its progressive bona fides.

Levi’s plans are multifaceted. They include senior hires such as a Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging – the title being an acknowledgement that retaining talent is just as important as attracting great people – and an intention to “reinvigorate” the company’s search for a Black member of its board.

Other efforts are perhaps less headline-grabbing but likely run deeper, for instance, building partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities to expand its talent pipeline.

Progress has to be material and measurable, he said, but difficult work must also take place in the recognition of the problems in the company and what it will take to change.

“Don’t go down the path unless you’re really committed to change,” he advised, “because once you say you’re going to make these commitments and you’re committed to really addressing structural racism inside your company, you’re going to be held accountable to it.”

For more on fixing structural inequalities in organisations, look out for the WARC Guide to brand activism in the Black Lives Matter era, which will be available this week.

Sourced from WARC