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Tackling Fashion's Unconscious Bias Problem

As part of our #BoFLIVE series, BBC Director of Creative Diversity June Sarpong shares best practices for better representation.
Source: Shutterstock
By
  • Sophie Soar

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LONDON, United Kingdom — Fashion draws so much of its inspiration from different cultures, and yet the industry remains homogeneous: not only when it comes to race, but also class and education.

“The DNA of the [fashion] industry has to change. The gate keepers need to start thinking differently,” said June Sarpong, director of creative diversity at the BBC, during a recent conversation with BoF's Robin Mellery-Pratt as part of our #BoFLIVE series. “We have never had an opportunity where the whole world is simultaneously in reset mode and we have to use that wisely.”

Sarpong’s media career began in radio and television before she authored two books, Diversify and The Power of Women, which led to consultative work on diversity and inclusion within organisations. Sarpong was awarded an OBE for her services to broadcasting in 2020.

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Here's what Sarpong believes every organisation should do now in order to make itself stronger for the future:

Diversify Decision-Makers, Not Just Talent

"Often, the focus is on who is in front of the camera. Of course, we want to be representative on screen and on air. But I think the more important question is who is behind the camera, making the decisions, commissioning, directing, producing. Those are the people who decide who gets hired and that's where we need to make sure there are more diverse voices at the table.

Optics matter. It's important you hire diverse talent in senior positions because you need people that diverse talent can look up to you. But you also need the examples of leadership so that the majority group have their minds changed about what a leader actually looks like."

Admit When You Don't Have the Answers — And Listen to Others Who Do

"If you don't have experience [outside the majority], there's nothing wrong with admitting that and listening to those that do. Often a mistake made by people who want to be allies is that they try to tell those that are discriminated against how they should feel. But how would they know?

However, what you can do is be a support system. Bring somebody who does know to the table and give [them] the opportunity to speak. Make sure your team all go on allyship training programmes. We then understand the role we have to play to make sure we create a more inclusive environment."

Think About How Changes in Social Attitudes Might Affect How You Do Business Going Forward

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"Understand what the value of diversity is, so that we understand it's worth it. It is important to know what it adds to the bottom line, but also to look at the way social attitudes are changing amongst the young. In the same way that your industry likes to have forecasts in terms of what colours or coats are going to be in-season, you also want to know what social attitudes are going to be in-season."

Consider Where 'Diversity and Inclusion' Sits on Your Org Chart

"Inclusion to me needs to move from Corporate Social Responsiblity (CSR), which is where it has often been placed, to (R&D), which is about the future of an organisation. If you've got that lens on, there's no way you will hire tokenistically because you truly understand.

Even the most novice investor knows that the best way to safeguard your investments is to diversify your portfolio. So why would we assume that this is any different for people? Why wouldn't you want to be able to fish from the biggest pond possible?"

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