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Editor's view: Where's the diversity?

  • Opinion
  • March 8, 2016
  • Sarah Dunn
Editor's view: Where's the diversity?

Only light-skinned men in suits can participate in the business world.

This seems to be the erroneous belief behind many stock images. Besides being visually uninspiring, it’s also really limiting for the many, many retailers who don’t fit that mould.

In the course of any given day, I can often be found trawling through Shutterstock seeking images of a businessperson carrying out something quite normal – filing a tax return, perhaps. Most of the time, of the 50-odd photographs available, 49 feature white men in dark suits. The exception is usually an unusually attractive, slender young Caucasian woman in formal dress.

Finding a diverse selection of prominent interviewees to front articles is also more difficult than it should be. My team will fill stories with highly capable, inspiring senior retailers taking on exciting projects, and then find ourselves wondering, where are the women? What about Maori, Pacific Islanders and Asian retailers? And how can we make sure the few members of these groups who have a profile within the retail community get their time in the spotlight?

Part of the problem, of course, is our fledgling networks. We’re proactively working on that - consider this an open call for outstanding women and retailers of colour to get in touch!

Another aspect is that senior positions are still heavily dominated by men and people of European descent. The New York Times this year pointed out that there are more men named John running big companies than women. In fact, for each female chief executive of a S&P 1500 firm, there are four men named John, Robert, William or James.

While there isn’t much data on the ethnic diversity within New Zealand’s retail industry, it’s clear that non-Pakeha populations within New Zealand as a whole are growing in size and influence. In the article on this topic within the current issue of NZRetail, I looked primarily at how this explosion of diversity will affect the retail workforce, but there’s also the selling angle – are you doing enough to appeal to non-white customers?

Farmers showed leadership in this area right before we went to press. A young Kiwi mum called Courtney Davidson wrote a moving column on her blog, Raising Queens, about her frustration with the limited selection of dolls on offer at her local Farmers store. She wanted her two brown-skinned daughters to be able to play with dolls that resembled them, speaking of instead finding “rows and rows” of dolls with blue eyes and blonde hair.

Davidson felt that the dominance of white dolls sent a message to non-white children that they were “ugly and too different”.

However, she was thrilled when Farmers rapidly responded through The Register, acknowledging her point of view and revealing three new lines of product featuring dolls of colour.

The two stories The Register wrote on this issue were shared across several Facebook pages and elicited comments like:

  • “Yes!!! It really so unbelievable - they are ALL white unless you're buying a specific character like Doc or Dora. SOMETIMES you find Princess Tiana and Mulan... Usually not.”
  • “Brilliant… I can totally relate to this I remember as a kid my mum managed to find me a brown doll it was my pride and joy because she looked like me.”

I was impressed with how Farmers acted on Davidson’s complaint, and so were the readers of Raising Queens. Farmers’ gesture towards inclusiveness was warmly rewarded, and an unhappy customer has been transformed into an online advocate. 

One of my goals for NZRetail and The Register in 2016 is for the many women and non-European people of both sexes who work in retail to be able to see themselves and the reality of their careers reflected in this magazine and its website. 

There will still be light-skinned men in suits - and we’ll celebrate their achievements with gusto. However, we’ll also work hard to tell meaningful stories about men and women of Maori descent like Davidson; Pacific Islanders like the wonderful Lautofa Tulagalua from House of Décor, first-ever Samoan winner of the People’s Choice award at the Auckland and Upper North Island Top Shop awards; and retailers of Asian descent like Meng Foon, mayor of Gisborne. Women like Chanelle Purser from Gore’s Carvin Streetwear and Toni Barrett from start-up Beauty Bliss are also working on fantastic projects worthy of recognition.

So, with that, what’s your company doing to promote diversity?

This copy originally appeared as an editorial in NZRetail magazine issue 742 February / March 2016.

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