As Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue, Edward Enninful OBE, has been a champion of diversity and inclusivity to help reinvigorate the 105-year-old brand. Here, he shares his vision for how we can build stronger businesses in a fairer post-pandemic world through diverse perspectives and a renewed focus on empathy.
As we emerge from this period of hardship as a society, we have a chance to rethink and reset, to do things better. And while people talk of returning to normal, it’s time to accept — and embrace — that there is no going back to the old world.
This is a great opportunity for a collective change of speed to help build a fairer world through the businesses we work in. In that respect, the past year has clarified our priorities and sharpened our purpose at British Vogue.
There are clearly many actions we can take to move forward and shape the world we want to live in post-pandemic, but I want to highlight five that I believe are essential — not just for the fashion industry but for organisations everywhere.
Ensure your brand and team reflect the world
When I took the job at British Vogue in 2017, I started by creating a manifesto: to represent the world in which we live, regardless of size, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, economic background and so on.
People didn’t see themselves reflected in Vogue. I wanted to change that. Not just in the pages and our digital content, but in the team too. To be representative, you need a multitude of voices in your business creating the work — you can’t have an inclusive magazine or brand without having an inclusive staff.
Once you have that, and once people see themselves reflected in the brand, it’s a wonderful thing. Only then can you be truly influential.
Organisations need to be more proactive at mid-level — recruiting a diverse range of individuals who could be the next CEO or CMO
Invest in diverse talent at all levels
Young talent is the future, but simply having them in the office is not enough. Businesses need to provide support through mentoring, sponsorship, and funding. That’s why we launched the Forces for Change initiative and scholarship programme last year.
And while supporting the next generation is important, organisations also need to be more proactive at mid-level — recruiting a diverse range of individuals who could be the next CEO or CMO. That’s where the real change can happen. It also acts in feeding the cycle, attracting younger diverse talent to a business.
Brands need to step out of their comfort zone and seek out and invest in diverse talent, from the bottom to the top. It has to be done, or the industry won’t progress.
Diversity isn’t something that you endorse for one season and then move on
Enact meaningful change in your work
Diverse campaigns are great, but they’re not enough. Diversity isn’t something that you endorse for one season and then move on. Last year, we saw brands putting a black box on their social media, seeing it as a box ticked without any follow-up or actions to create lasting change.
People see through this tokenistic approach to diversity in content and campaigns. That’s why we avoid “special” issues — the “Black issue” or the “Religious issue,” for example — because every issue should be diverse and representative. It shouldn’t be a one-off.
Diverse campaigns are great, but they’re not enough
I was told early on that diversity in fashion doesn’t sell, but we’ve proven that diversity is good for business. Our Rihanna cover, which was the first September issue fronted by a Black woman, was one of our best-selling issues — and the Duchess of Sussex issue was our fastest-selling cover ever.
Use technology and platforms to further accessibility
Not everyone has access to traditional career routes, whether that’s a university degree or London-based internships. But technology and platforms such as YouTube have been a great leveller in that respect, providing a platform for the next generation. This was a big part in our thinking behind Vogue Visionaries, our creative masterclass series with inspiring young creative talent at this critical time.
Digital and social media platforms have also opened up access for smaller brands and young designers, because they can find an audience without putting on an expensive fashion show. Likewise, for the major fashion houses, the pandemic has encouraged digital innovation. Everyone has become their own editor.
Not only is this better for the environment — because technology allows us to collaborate and share ideas without traveling to shows — but it’s also great for access. Moving forward, the hybrid of in-person experiences and digital formats will mean you don’t need a VIP invite or a front row seat to be included.
To meet consumers’ needs, empathy is key
In the past 12 months, we’ve had a chance to step back and speak to the readers and each other. That’s been one positive to come out of this incredibly difficult period: we’ve slowed down, and we’ve listened.
It’s demonstrated the value and need for empathy. When people feel heard, they will spend. Take time to listen to them, and don’t underestimate them.
You can’t have a good business if you can’t feel what your staff and customers are feeling. Only when you genuinely understand them can you meet their needs.
YouTube and British Vogue have partnered to launch Vogue Visionaries, a series of masterclasses giving aspiring creatives the opportunity to learn from some of the U.K.’s leading industry talent.