Forget animal prints and Dad sneakers — in the shoe industry, diversity might just be the hottest new trend.
And while many companies are espousing ambitious goals around balancing their internal ranks through greater inclusion, when it comes to which ones are actually making good on those objectives, it remains a mixed bag.
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When he took the stage with FN senior digital editor Charlie Carballo in Las Vegas at FN Platform on Tuesday, D’Wayne Edwards, founder of Pensole Footwear Design Academy, said for roughly a decade, his organization has aided athletic footwear companies in their diversity efforts by training and developing minority sneaker designers and creating a pipeline into footwear for underrepresented groups. But as some firms work to overcome their shortcomings, Edwards said he’s encouraged his students and other mentees to take ownership of their own career paths so that they’re always able to make a strong case for their worth as they aim to climb the ladder.
In that regard, when it comes to pay equity, the onus, said Edwards, can be “a two-way street.”
“I think it’s an employee’s obligation to always understand their value,” explained Edwards. “So if you’re a designer, for instance, you should know how many pairs of the shoes [you designed] were sold. You should also make an effort to increase your value through knowledge you’ve acquired every single year you’re on that job. You want to make yourself undeniable so that if that company denies you, based on your knowledge and information, go somewhere else.”
Similarly, Valérie Martin, VP of communications, culture and CSR at Aldo Group, said minorities should do their research before they get into a company to try to identify whether they’ll enjoy pay equity and other important intangibles like “belonging” and a welcoming culture.
“[Prospective employees] need to do your homework [in advance] — don’t just look at the company’s website, look at social media,” explained Martin, who also sat down with Carballo to tackle “Diversity Matters.” “Of course, you can always find some drama on [any] company, if you look deep enough — but you can [still] get a feel for how people are welcomed.”
What’s more, added Martin, since diversity has become a “mainstream trend” and “politically correct to talk about,” most companies’ websites will include some sort of diversity and inclusion statement.
“They’ll all tell you they’re very diverse and believe in diversity,” she added. “But, in order to know what it’s really like inside of the company, you have to ask someone who works there.”
FN Platform is being held at the Las Vegas Convention Center from Aug. 12-14.
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