Article 3

2020-02-16 Zenia Simonella

Diversity Management: Apply with Care

On February 4, 2020, the New York Times published an article [1] on the case of the Prada company, that in 2018 was accused of having produced racist advertisements put up in the city of New York, and then removed due to criticism. After a long investigation by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, a formal agreement was reached stating that the company would adopt some measures on the issue of diversity and inclusion: from a financial and occupational standpoint, the company would support ethnic minorities, accept outside monitoring of its operations, and promote awareness of diversity among its employees.

In 2019, the creation of a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council was also announced; a "racial equity training" course was launched for all of the company's employees, in the New York and Milan offices; a new position was created, the Diversity & Inclusion Officer, to check both products and advertising; and practices were introduced for monitoring the workforce to guarantee equity and representation of various categories.

Some observations

Prada had to embark on a (forced) path of diversity management and inclusion, as happened for other companies as well (see the case of Barilla in September 2013). It was necessary for public opinion, and then an outside entity, to intervene to launch a process of reflection and enhanced awareness in a sector, that of fashion, in which companies still seem far from seriously addressing these issues. We need to understand how much that pressure will lead to institutionalizing the issue and defining a strategy not only of external communication, but also management of people oriented to equity and inclusion.

The company decided to promote a training course on ethnic equity for all of its employees, in both the United States and Italy. While the issue of ethnic-cultural differences is central for businesses operating in the United States, there is no guarantee it is in Italy. In this case, Prada decided to provide the same training course not only to enhance awareness, but also to symbolically communicate that the issue is being taken seriously. Specifically, it can have a meaning dictated by the contingency of having to publicly demonstrate the company's commitment to the issue on which it received criticism. However, in more general terms, diversity management policies cannot be uniform from one country to the next; there can be guidelines that orient local HR departments, but they must be contextualized, and take into account the needs and expectations of the employees who work in a certain context.

Tending towards uniformity and standardization when dealing with diversity management is a contradiction in terms.  

[1] "Miuccia Prada Will Be Getting Sensitivity Training", New York Times, February 4, 2020.