Diversity training for brands is no longer a “nice to have,” it’s crucial

February 19, 2020

Written by Katherine K. Ellis
A fashion week attendee dons a Prada bag

New York Fashion Week was Feb. 7th – 12th, and as an update to our crisis blog covering the incidents from Gucci, Prada, and more, we took a look at actions taken between then and now to see what’s changing with regard to diversity training and inclusion initiatives among huge designer brands.

To recap, in 2019, both Gucci and Prada were in hot water for designs that evoked blackface. Engagements to articles about the brands spiked in the millions for some designers, as accusations of racism flew around on Twitter.

Engagements to major racially-charged crises in 2019

2019 racially charged crises

The first six months of 2019 saw Gucci, Katy Perry, and Prada brush with blackface in their designs, and just in time for Black History Month, Adidas served up an all-white shoe. Relatively speaking, nothing came close to the coverage Gucci got and the brand pulled the offending sweater immediately, offering an apology on Twitter.

But since we last checked in on coverage, it seems that the inevitable sensitivity reckoning for large designer brands is beginning.

Earlier this month ahead of New York fashion week, the New York Times reported that Prada would undergo sensitivity training as part of a settlement with the New York City Commission on Human Rights. While this story wasn’t in the top most engaged articles about diversity training, its 3k engagements showed there is an interest in seeing change from large designer brands. 

After Prada’s brush with a racially-charged crisis in 2019, they pulled the offending designs, apologized, and announced their intention to focus on diversity. But the commission felt there was more they could do. Prada is now required to provide sensitivity training for their New York employees within 120 days of signing the agreement. They are also tasked with appointing a diversity and inclusion officer at a director level. This new position would help review Prada’s US designs before they are sold or marketed in any way. The commission is also negotiating with Gucci for its blackface sweater, and Christian Dior after its Sauvage campaign.

This is a different problem for brands, who normally have to face backlash in the wake of a crisis from their consumers via a social media firestorm. Now, city governments are involved. What remains to be seen is if these settlements actually make a difference in organizations with massive global appeal. 

But since the initial crises in 2019, has anyone in the fashion industry or otherwise taken steps toward a better understanding of diversity and inclusion? Are trainings and meetings actually working toward making a difference?

Engagements to articles about diversity training in 2019

Engagements to articles covering diversity training in 2019

When looking for articles mentioning diversity and inclusion training regardless of industry, the coverage skews negative. It seems that these efforts are covered in the media when things go horribly wrong or are counterproductive in the very communities they’re trying to reach.

For example, the most engaged articles about diversity training in 2019 were focused on schools and universities who were slow to react to complaints of racist behavior by students. While there were meetings held to address these concerns, sometimes they devolved into less productive conversations that only exacerbated the issue.

Most engaged stories covering diversity trainings in 2019

Top ten most engaged articles about diversity training


2020 isn’t off to the best start either. A community in Michigan held a listening session following mounting racial tensions, but a parent’s “stay in Mexico” remark caught on video completely derailed the speaker’s point about his son enduring racist abuse throughout school. The encounter proved the necessity for these types of conversations to be had, and in places where people feel safe and comfortable voicing concerns.

Most engaged stories covering diversity trainings in 2020

Top stories about diversity training in 2020

Though there is a lot of negative coverage about where diversity and inclusion fall flat, the most engaged story for 2020 to date was about black teachers in New York City winning a settlement against a principal that explicitly tried to falsify negative performance evaluations in order to get rid of them more easily. Their $1 million settlement in one of the country’s most diverse cities shows there is still a lot of reconciliation to be done, but that long-overdue change is coming.

If you’d like to better understand how to effectively espouse your brand’s diversity and inclusion values, take a look at NewsWhip Analytics, where you can see over-time trends as far back as 2014.

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Katherine K. Ellis

Katherine is a Content Strategist for NewsWhip working at the confluence of journalism and marketing.

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