Following the much publicized incident with H&M for the insensitive marketing of one of its childrenswear e-commerce pieces, the reaction of consumers denouncing it was swift. When it was announced that the billion dollar fashion behemoth was appointing a head of diversity and inclusion for North America, we knew it was a step in the right direction.
What does this really mean? Well, BN Style Editor at Large Isoken Ogiemwonyi spoke to Ezinne Kwubiri all about her new role, what a typical day is like and what H&M is trying to achieve.
Diversity & inclusion should be the standard in every organization & company in the world.
Please tell us a little about yourself. Background, school, career?
I am originally from Abia State in Nigeria. I came to the US (NYC) at a young age, completed all of my education in the US. I graduated from the prestigious Howard University in Washington, DC with a degree in Accounting. Soon after, I began my professional career in Auditing/ Compliance for a major consulting firm. After 2 years, I started exploring other opportunities & moved to back to NYC to work at MTV Networks. I spent the next 11 years+ in various roles from compliance, project management, communications & training, and change management, etc.
Congratulations on your new role! H&M is a huge company with major global impact. What led you to make the decision to join the team especially following the hoodie backlash?
When I became aware of the role, I was interested in understanding why they believed it was important for North America to have someone leading the diversity & inclusion efforts. As reported on different outlets, I knew there was a Global Head of D&I already appointed. I am a firm believer that we (individuals) are the drivers of creating & implementing change in the world. So despite criticism, I looked at it as an opportunity to be present at the table & be an agent in changing the narrative & improving processes.
How do you plan to keep the conversation about inclusion going, so that diversity becomes the standard, at every level at H&M?
That’s is the goal. Diversity & inclusion should be the standard in every organization & company in the world. The plan is to infuse this concept, is to raise awareness & incorporate certain practices in every function of the business. My job is to lead these efforts but the full culture change lives in the hands of every employee in the workplace.
You have a huge mandate and responsibilities at H&M. Can you walk me through what a typical day looks like for you?
My days vary greatly – meetings, training, visiting stores, conferencing with our Head Office in Sweden, or working on documentation. My meetings are about developing strategies, assessing plans and/or rolling out ideas. Despite my busy schedule, it is important for me, is to be accessible to the teams. I want employees on all levels to know that I am here to hear their concerns & get their ideas. I want to feel the heartbeat of the people to help assess what is working & what isn’t.
With many celebrities and individuals chiming on the diversity issue and calling to boycott the brand, how do you repair the relationship with the consumer? Especially in a country like South Africa where things got particularly heated.
Our customers are the core of the business. It is important to stop & listen to the feedback of our customers & make the appropriate adjustments. Armed with our values, these relationships continue to be built with trust, acknowledgement, growth & progression.
How are you involved with the external marketing and telling that story to the consumer, especially when your role is primarily internal. Do you play a part in those changes?
Within the D&I strategy our focus areas are colleagues, customers, & the community. My role as Head of Inclusion & Diversity is consist of me working alongside different functions in the business. As I mentioned, true long-lasting change, lives in the hands of every employee in the workplace. Our conversations are inclusive of actions that are visible to the public, including story telling. Understanding that internally, we need to be aligned & working on the progression & culture of our colleagues.
As recently as 10-20 years ago people were not necessarily making purchasing decisions based on a company’s values and ethics. Now, these things are inextricably linked. How do you navigate this in the millennial era of ‘cancelling’ brands?
We tend to use advertisement as a means of engaging with our customers and we want to make sure that we are listening to them. We see that the general status quo & remaining silent on social economic issues can also harm the business. Millennials are fearless & bold. They are demanding things from organizations as they see the world changing & what they want their world to look like, so it’s important to stop, listen & take note. It’s an ever evolving journey.
What lessons from your previous roles do you bring to H&M?
Every experience in life, brings on lessons that are applicable to your career & personal life. The biggest lesson that continue to be relevant is that change doesn’t happen overnight & change isn’t easy. When your responsibility is about driving change, that’s something you have to be ready to challenge & focus on.
Your role is an interesting one – what advice would you have for a high school or college student who wants to get into your line of work? What advice do you have for a young woman/man who wants to use her voice to challenge the current narrative even if she looks different from everyone else?
It’s a balance between empathy & diligence/ stance to push harder. Remembering that everyone is coming from a different perspective & understanding of what diversity & inclusion is & its value in a business. Your job is to educate & challenge – representing & being the voice of many.
What’s the best career advice you’ve received, to date?
You deserve to be here. Embrace it. Prepare for it. Own it.
Favourite Fall look at H&M right now
Leopard & Faux FUR! Easy way to add some glam to your wardrobe
What is your most treasured possession?
An Alex & Ani bracelet that my best friend gave me. I have several of those bracelets now.
What is your go-to work look?
All black everything. It’s just so easy & comfortable. From black pants, skirts, blazers, furs, blouses. You can’t beat it.
What technology do you wish someone would invent?
A way to stop the time. Time just moves so fast & sometimes I want to live in that moment for a while longer or rewind the time.
What is your most unappealing habit?
I’m not sure is it “unappealing” but I have a strong love for chocolate!