20 Jul Culture’s Impact on Business: Anthropologie’s Conscious Discrimination
As a casual shopper at Anthropologie, I was really disappointed to read a recent Buzzfeed News article which revealed a troubling trend of racial profiling in Anthropologie’s stores. According to reporter Venessa Wong, “former employees of Anthropologie stores in multiple states told BuzzFeed News that they observed the company’s code words for suspected shoplifters — “Nick” and “Nicky” — being largely directed at people of color, particularly Black customers.” The fact that individual stores are profiling non-white patrons is enough of a problem, but the article indicates a much larger problem with the company’s culture.
A company’s culture can be seen in every part of the business, and this is evident with Anthropologie. From pay disparities between black and white employees (an experienced black retail worker said “she was paid about $13 per hour, which was $2 per hour less than what a white colleague who had no retail experience made.”), marketing and branding that is tailored almost exclusively to white women (“Former employees said Anthropologie’s target customer… is essentially a wealthy, middle-aged white woman.”), and the previously mentioned racial profiling in stores, it is evident that Anthropologie has failed to create an inclusive, anti-racist culture.
Any company that cares to cultivate inclusivity must elevate voices from underrepresented groups, actually putting people of color in positions where they are actively involved in decision-making.
If you needed a clear demonstration of how culture touches every area of a company, the Buzzfeed News article lays it out. Some may try to argue that instances of racial profiling in stores are isolated and don’t suggest anything about the company at large, but Wong found that this sort of discrimination is built into the company’s image. The problem of their branding specifically targeting white women has been pointed out, as has the pay disparity between black and white workers. But as with any organizational culture issue, the problem starts at the top. Wong wrote that “year after year, shareholders rejected a resolution to add more women and people from minority groups to its board.” Racism exists throughout our society, and there is no “quick fix” for Anthropologie to eliminate instances of discrimination or racial bias in their company, but it is impossible to build an inclusive culture that embraces diversity if the people making decisions are neither diverse nor inclusive.
Anthropologie’s issue is foundational. It is a problem at the core of their identity. What kind of business are they? Who would they like to serve? According to Buzzfeed News, it seems that their identity has been centered around serving a very specific type of customer, and it has led to them being unwelcoming to customers who are not white. Recent protests have reignited efforts against racism in our society, and Anthropologie could commit themselves to cultivating an inclusive, anti-racist work environment, but this starts from the top down. Any company that cares to cultivate inclusivity must elevate voices from underrepresented groups, actually putting people of color in positions where they are actively involved in decision-making. Beyond that, they can institute pay equality, fair and equal hiring practices, sensitivity training for store workers (something Wong mentioned was lacking), and a brand identity that welcomes all people.
Living in a society that continues to fight its own systemic racism means that people who are privileged enough to not experience this racism often have blind spots about their own racial biases, or those of the racism in the system they’re a part of.
When the Black Lives Matter movement erupted across the country, the vast majority of brands quickly took a clear, firm stand against racism, posting direct responses to the systemic injustice and calling upon their audiences to take action with them. Donations were made, petitions were signed, injustices were protested, and changes were implemented in organizations and in individuals. Anthropologie’s audience, however, felt that the brand’s vague, indirect response, which included no accountability or plan of action, was entirely inadequate. While many brands were taking a stand and deepening their connection and trust with their following, Anthropologie’s weak and insincere response drove the wedge between their brand and their audience even deeper. When called out for their contributing to the issues at hand, Anthropologie issued a response which denied the claims against them, but committed to “doing better.”
Living in a society that continues to fight its own systemic racism means that people who are privileged enough to not experience this racism often have blind spots about their own racial biases, or those of the racism in the system they’re a part of. This is why it’s so important that we relentlessly examine the actions of the brands that we support, and call out those who abuse their power. Creating an environment where only the privileged make decisions will inevitably lead to practices that do not fully consider the perspective of the victims of racism. Creating an inclusive culture means creating an environment where all voices are heard, and all perspectives are seen. It requires all leaders, across all industries, making it a priority, and it requires all consumers to be mindful of how they vote with their wallets. Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be “efforts” that are inevitably siloed from real business operations, but should rather be woven into the organization’s operations. This intentional culture should inform the ways in which all employees interact, make decisions, collaborate and elevate diverse voices. A person’s success shouldn’t be left to the chance that they have a great manager. It’s really about institutionalizing inclusive behaviors and establishing the intention to foster belonging as a core element of culture.
Shaara Roman is founder and managing director of The Silverene Group, a culture consultancy that helps companies align their people programs with business goals.