The fashion industry’s recent fixation on promoting equality and female empowerment has been widespread as designers like Zadig & Voltaire and Alexander Wang explicitly addressed the issue of gender inequality in their 2018 fall collections.
For an industry that targets women by promoting empowering messages through social media campaigns and runway looks, a gender-pay gap in favor of men would be unexpected, but it has disappointingly been the case in many female-centric industries.
Companies focusing on female clientele need to work harder to ensure equal pay among their female employees. It’s discouraging to see one of the few industries led by and catered to women still bearing this issue.
London-based fashion companies had to report their gender-pay data by the first week of April this year and the results were shocking and ironic. Somehow, an industry targeting a female audience and employing a large number of female staff has still not been able to close the pay gap.
The bias in favor of men is widespread and can be seen not only in clothing companies but also in beauty brands and magazine publishing houses.
These companies have tackled the long-time issue by providing an antiquated explanation: a pay gap only exists because women are employed in lower paying positions, like retail assistants. This is only an excuse used by companies to continue gender discrimination and is exactly what needs to be changed in the fashion industry.
Not only does this lackluster excuse undermine hard work done by women daily, but it continues to underscore a woman’s ability to fill high-paying leadership positions.
If a company wishes to attract more female consumers, why shouldn’t they have a female CEO making sure women’s needs are met? In the end, women know women best, whether it’s in clothing garments or makeup; female employees know exactly what attract women to consumer goods.
This explanation is also not justified in all the companies reporting their gender-pay data. Take the brand Karen Millen, a “fashion house specializing in women’s fashion.” Their data reports women’s median hourly rate is 49 percent less than men’s.
These unfavorable figures were visible even when women make up 84 percent of the company’s top positions. Although more women were seen in high-level positions, like CEO and CFO, male employees still managed to receive higher bonuses.
Karen Millen addressed this issue in a statement that the pay gap existed because the head office was run by a few male employees.
Condé Nast Publications Limited, the company that provides publishing services to magazines like GQ, Vogue and Vanity Fair, reported the largest mean gender-pay gap. On average, a female employee earns about 89 cents for every $1.42 earned by a man.
Another one of Condé Nast’s clients, Glamour magazine, offers a cutthroat explanation as to why women are not seen in these high-paying leadership roles. It’s not that there aren’t talented, qualified women to fill these positions, but rather outdated employment initiatives favoring men over women due to gender discrimination.
A gender-pay gap can no longer be validated by excusing the difference in pay to the positions women and men are employed in. If this stigma is not challenged, then there will continue to be a pay gap in fields that are ironically preaching about female empowerment.
More women are earning university degrees and looking to enter the workforce than ever before, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Society cannot expect to close the gap when the very companies that are employing the most women and targeting a female audience cannot guarantee equal pay.
An industry that is looking to embrace female empowerment, feminism and challenge sexual harassment in the workplace should be doing more to embrace women as the leaders of the industry and provide equal pay, and opportunity to match their male counterparts.