An Inside Look at How VF Takes Pride in Empowering Employees
1. Since you began your career, what have you discovered is the best way to create a culture of inclusion within a team?
For me, it is all about leading by example and ‘normalizing’ ways of doing things as people are fearful of the unknown, resulting in a lot of unconscious biases. For example, one personal question I get asked by people is “What is it like to be a gay parent?”. My response to that question is that we are not gay parents, we’re just parents like any other familial unit. The more we can normalize that we are all the same and experience similar things, it unlocks the mysteries and we as humans become more relatable to each other. I believe that sometimes we have to be a little provocative and challenge people to question their unconscious biases in a non malicious way. I strongly believe in keeping it real and keeping it normal. There is no reason to hide or pretend to be someone you aren’t. If I am being transparent and leading by example to my team, they are empowered to also be vocal and be real themselves.
2. In what ways does VF continue to support the LGBTQIA+ community?
I want to first discuss the four Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that VF has established globally including Pride (LGBTQIA+ Community), Woven (Women of VF Employee Network), ACE (Attract. Connect. Engage. Diversity) and Veteran Forces (Veterans, including those transitioning to the civilian workforce and VF associates who have family members currently serving in the Armed Forces). ERGs are created for the people, by the people who are passionate and want to make a difference. It is remarkable that VF has highlighted Pride as a focus for an ERG with so many important topics and issues impacting people across the globe. Due to the fact that VF Pride is an ERG, it is a year-long effort, not just a highlight for the month of June. As a chair, I approach Pride in the same way I oversee my brand. I schedule an annual meeting with a set agenda, meet with members to create a strategic plan with objectives and assign tasks for each team member with the end goal in mind. We work to understand the biggest points of opportunity and create an action plan to make a difference. When members come together for a cause and ask who are we doing this for, most often the answer from our Pride community is “everyone.” For example, the pronoun campaign that has been implemented is not only a Pride priority, but also a cultural and communal priority for everyone.
3. Share your experience working alongside the HR team at VF to help support LGBTQIA+ team members.
My experience has been that the HR team operates through a partnership where we are “function neutral.” It is important that HR does support us in making sure that benefits reflect Pride initiatives and cultural sensitivities. For example, we are currently working on how we can strip away terms that carry unconscious bias in our policies including the term maternity leave. To become more inclusive do we replace that term with parental leave? This is just one example of how we can continue to be aware of these biases and make policies more inclusive to all employee communities.
4. What brand initiatives are you proud of that VF has supported within this realm?
The North Face®, Vans®, Kipling, Smartwool® and Timberland® have all been leading the way in this space with a Pride Collection or capsule. Again, these collections don’t just get put forward during June - they are a priority all year long. icebreaker®, for example, did Pride messaging around Valentine’s Day. You’re not just gay during June, you’re gay during the whole year.
We are also seeing brands embracing unisex and gender neutral collections that reflects our diverse customer base and their evolving attitude towards gender expression.
5. Anything else you’d like to share in relation to this topic?
In taking action to increase awareness and end unconscious bias, VF has also established SafeZone training in the U.S., as well as focusing on creating a culture of belonging globally. In the new hybrid and remote workplace, we have to overcome a new threshold of bringing people to the office in addition to safety. If employees don’t feel a sense of belonging or don’t feel safe at work or that they can be their true self there, they will not want to come to work. There is an ongoing effort of building an inclusive culture through unbiased training and awareness. It is a multi-dimensional effort that is sparked by Pride in June, but Pride can be a catalyst for diverse thinking in pursuit of building a culture of belonging that transcends just 30 days in June.