It All Starts at the Top: Why the Fashion Industry Needs to Embrace Equity in the Boardroom

  • Gender Equity
Black and white headshot of Amina Razvi
Amina Razvi
April 13, 2023

Women dominate the world of fashion. They comprise the majority of workers from the design phase, to the facility floor and drive the majority of purchasing decisions as consumers. Despite this influence, they are significantly under-represented in the C-suite and in board rooms across the globe, with women occupying just 20% of boardroom seats globally. While 80% of garment workers are women, 75% of CEO roles within the textile and apparel sector are held by men. We need more women leaders because gender equity is critical to achieving our long term success as an industry, and will enable us to thrive as a global community.

Increasing diverse voices at every level, from the boardroom to the facility floor, gives us the best opportunity to solve the multiple crises we face and co-create solutions by involving all who have a role to play and are often most impacted by these decisions. Prioritizing equity at every level across an organization through investment, policy and a culture that actively supports women can result in transformative impact – for businesses and society. In doing so, companies and consumers can benefit from the broadest possible range of creative approaches and ideas, creating greater resiliency and opportunity for all, not just some. To transform our industry as radically as the latest IPCC report determines to avert the worst impacts of climate change – women need to not only have a seat at the table but they must be involved in the decision-making processes at every point in the continuum.

Unfortunately, throughout the corporate world, women leaders are currently leaving in droves. What’s been dubbed the ‘Great Breakup’ has seen women executives quitting their companies at the highest rate ever. According to management consultant McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report, businesses are struggling to hold onto the few women leaders they have, because many are expecting more equitable, supportive, and inclusive workplaces and are willing to leave to find it.

What part can we play to stop the mass exodus of current female executives, while simultaneously encouraging the next generation of women leaders? In practice, we need to acknowledge that women’s experiences are different. To support this difference, we need better policies, greater mentorship and to ensure equity for women at all levels of business. One of our manufacturer members, CIEL Textile, runs the GO Beyond Gender program. It has an ambitious target of 35% of Women at Management level by 2030, and a broad variety of initiatives designed to work towards that target. Eric Dorchies, CEO, from CIEL Textile said “In order to launch the program we underwent a process of real collaboration, uniting the top leaders and participants from our different business units across Mauritius, India, Madagascar and Bangladesh. We had to recognize change starts at the top, and we will see this filter down through our business”.

In addition, there needs to be clear pathways to promotion for women across the entire value chain. Mentorship is particularly important in this regard. I’ve been very lucky to have had a couple of women mentors, but most have been men, simply because they tend to have the time. Now as a leader myself, I understand this situation firsthand. When women ask me to mentor them, allocating time is often challenging. We need to help nurture the women in our teams and across our companies and dedicate time to empower them to grow and develop and organizations should support this.

As a woman in a leadership position, I firmly believe that to address the challenges ahead and create the best possible version of our industry, we need greater representation at all levels. Imagine the impact we could see if we placed an emphasis on ensuring greater diversity. How could supply chains change for the better? What new solutions could we see towards tackling climate change, improving human rights, increasing gender equity, and reversing biodiversity degradation? What could the ripple effect be from the boardroom to the factory floor? We are missing an opportunity to unleash the full spectrum of innovation, creativity and alternative styles of thinking and leadership to bear on the challenges we face. We are limiting our opportunities to truly thrive together. From a societal and equality perspective, it is essential that we find new ways to help women rise through its ranks. It is my belief that women leadership is critical to achieve the greener, cleaner and fairer future we all desire.


Putting Equity at the Heart of Sustainability this International Women’s Day

Black and white headshot of Amina Razvi
Amina Razvi
March 08, 2023

The textile and apparel industry has a unique role to play in empowering women and increasing equity for millions of women garment workers, especially in the Global South, who depend on it for survival. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘embrace equity’ – we must make equity central to our collective journey to becoming more responsible and ensuring a just transition to a fairer and greener system for all.

As with many female leaders across the world, striving for greater equity is a personal passion of mine, and something I reflect on and work towards all year round. Empowering women has huge benefits to industries, and the planet, worldwide.

As we collectively accelerate our work on addressing the climate crisis, those who are the most vulnerable within our sector – the millions of women who work in textile and garment production facilities – must  be at the heart of our strategies. Sustainability is about addressing environmental and social equity hand in hand.

The apparel industry is one of the few in which women workers predominate with women making up 80% of the world’s garment workers. Our sector consequently has an enormous opportunity when it comes to increasing equity. Already, it offers a foothold for many women out of poverty.

When speaking to our members and the women working in facilities, I have heard inspiring stories of how  working in the industry has not only changed lives, but the lives of the next generation. Women have spoken of increasing independence, security and professional growth. Some are the first in their families to send their children to school, which is especially important for girls and it has enabled them to achieve a more prosperous future. The positive impacts are multi-faceted and multi-generational. By taking a lead on this issue, our industry can take a lead on the greater societal change necessary for a prosperous, inclusive and more equitable future for all.

However, women garment and textile workers are also disproportionately affected by exploitation. Some face gender-based violence and even slavery. We need to do more together, to co-create solutions across the entire value chain to address these issues and realize opportunities for all women. We need to see fair pay, decent conditions, job security, and opportunities for development.

One example of this type of collaboration is RISE, formerly known as Empower@Work, a collaborative initiative from BSR’s HERproject, CARE, Better Work, and GAP Inc.’s P.A.C.E program that seeks to  deliver a unified approach to women’s empowerment and gender equality in global supply chains. By helping to support, empower and increase equity for women, the entire industry benefits.

No easy answers exist, but our industry is known for its creativity, ingenuity, and our ability to collaborate on shared solutions. We have the talent, imagination, and skills to envision and realize expansive solutions to the complex series of interlinked problems we face. The key is staying focused on putting people first, particularly women, to ensure greater equality, empowerment, and equity across the value chain.

As a women-dominated industry, apparel has a unique opportunity to do something exceptional and lead on issues of gender equity; this needs to happen from the top down. Although Fortune 500 recently recorded its highest number of companies led by women (10%), fashion industry leaders are still male dominated. Approximately 75% of men take up CEO roles, compared to the 80% of garment workers being made up by women. This disparity between the number of men in leadership positions and women making up the majority in the manual labor work force highlights how important it is to “embrace equity” in the apparel industry and ensure women are empowered throughout the whole supply chain right into leadership roles. If we are serious about gender equity in this industry, our organizations need to reflect this commitment at all organizations across the value chain, from the boardroom to the factory floor.

We need to embrace equity and create the best possible version of our industry – one that empowers women at all levels and creates a more equitable future for all.