Often, the best way to confront a scandal is to avoid creating one in the first place. After a flurry of major brands—including Gucci, Prada and H&M—quickly scrambled to create diversity-focused positions, boards and initiatives following major gaffes in cultural insensitivity, Chanel, which has thus far avoided being named in a recent racial scandal (and boasts a recent collaboration with Pharrell) is the latest to create a role to oversee diversity and inclusion, hiring Fiona Pargeter, who previously held the same position at Swiss bank UBS.
Fiona Pargeter just joined the company in the position of head of Diversity and Inclusion to evolve our existing diversity and inclusion approach. Diversity and Inclusion has been led for a couple of years in our People and Organization function by our people communication and engagement leader. Fiona has been hired to continue to create momentum for our efforts. This recruitment is a sign of our commitment to these topics and its importance to the house.
While obviously experienced in the role, Pargeter’s hiring marks a departure from other brands’ approach to filling their diversity gaps, as the aforementioned labels have all sought out talents of color to fill this crucial and very visible role. Dapper Dan leads a predominately black “Changemakers Council” at Gucci (in addition to the hiring of a black Vice President of Brand and Culture Engagement, Antoine Phillips); Ava DuVernay and artist Theaster Gates were recruited to co-chair the Diversity and Inclusion Council at Prada (h/t WWD); and after H&M’s catastrophic cultural misstep, Annie Wu, an Asian Global Leader of Diversity & Inclusiveness was installed, followed by Nigerian-American Ezinne Kwubiri as the North American lead.
Chanel’s choice to not automatically install a person of color as its diversity and inclusion lead could be looked at twofold: first, that the brand seeks to avoid any appearance of pandering or tokenism by simply hiring someone they considered the best qualified for the position. Conversely, one might also wonder how seriously Chanel regards the diversity conversation and the countless cultural minutiae that having more people of color in leadership roles might help safeguard against. After all, this appointment isn’t exactly the “seat at the table” fashion insiders have been asking for.
Regardless, the lessons learned from major public relations mistakes are painful, and the memory of the public long, as Gucci learned the hard way. For its sake, one hopes Chanel can avoid similar mistakes.
“It’s been very intense to go through, and it must serve to build something new,” Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele told Vogue following the company’s fiasco earlier this year. “We were, of course, very sorry. This will help us do things in a different way. We’ll learn a lesson, that we all need to open up and allow other people to bring something into this company. Something beautiful has come out of this.”