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Fashion’s Faux Pas of Hiring for Cultural Fit

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Fashion’s Faux Pas of Hiring for Cultural Fit


Fashion’s Faux Pas of Hiring for Cultural Fit
Markisha B. Velazquez
MGT 500 Organizational Behavior
Dr. Matthew D. Kenney
Kenney College

Fashion’s Faux Pas of Hiring for Cultural Fit


With a majority of practicing fashion designers being women, and openly gay male designers at the spotlight receiving more design awards than their heterosexual peers (Stokes,
2013), you would expect the fashion industry to have exemplary diversity hiring practices.
However, the fashion industry’s obsession with “fitting in” leads to managers offering jobs to candidates whose physical appearance and lifestyle embody the brand. Of course if your brand sells a certain look and lifestyle, you want your employees representing that lifestyle to eat, sleep, and dress like the brand. However, the practice of hiring for cultural fit can lead to lack of diversity and creativity and overconfidence amongst staff from groupthink.
Reverse Discrimination
Stokes (2013) reports that out of the 81 men included in Voguepedia’s canon, 51 are openly gay and women outnumber the fashion design labor market with 70% women to 30% men in Canada and 51.6% women in the US. Though the fashion industry disproportionately represents and even idealizes these minorities, diversity still remains an issue in many companies. The tendency to hire and advance employees who represent the company culture can be an unintentional result of similarity/attraction of managers or the practice of overt discrimination. In both cases, the lack of diverse perspectives can have a negative effect on the creativity and performance of a company.
Look the Part
Employees at many companies mention the importance of having a look that resonates with the brand’s identity, particularly those who are highly visible such as sales representatives at retailers, Manlow, 2009. According to Manlow, “Polo Ralph Lauren employees report that

Fashion’s Faux Pas of Hiring for Cultural Fit


both appearance and ability to fit into the culture are essential; some say this may even be more important than actual abilities”(2009). A vault survey reveals insight from a surveyed Technical
Designer stating:
It is possible to be hired if you do not look the Polo part, However, it is very easy seeing people waiting outside HR for their interviews who would be hired. For women: tall,
WASPY, little or no make up with a tan and long, rumpled hair. Short fingernails, bare or subtle polish. A lot of people dress as though they stepped out of a Polo rig. (p. 181)
Manlow (2009) cites a sales associates hiring experience at Abercrombie & Finch from an anonymous Vault survey, “They didn’t ask me anything. They said you look clean cut and
American and I had the job (I have blonde hair and blue eyes)”(p. 184).
Aging out of Abercrombie & Finch
One of the most overt examples of discrimination practiced by a fashion brand is
Abercrombie & Finch(A&F), whose practices of forcing employees to buy and wear their products down to their underwear (Hoenig, 2014), discrimination against hiring minorities, larger women, and older men lead to multiple lawsuits and the replacement of their CEO of 20 years,
Mike Jeffries (Berfeild & Rupp, 2015). The discriminatory practices hurt not only the A&F’s team but also their brand image and bottom line. In 2006, celebrities including Miley Cyrus and
Ellen DeGeneres, publicly boycotted A&F products because of its discriminatory policies regarding plus­sized people
(Hoenig, 2014).
A Piper Jaffray survey in fall 2013 asked teen girls what brands they no longer wear: A&F ranked second
(Berfeild & Rupp, 2015) y the end of
2013, store sales dropped 11 percent and the company had closed at least 220 mall stores with another 120 stores in the U.S. scheduled to close within two years
(Berfeild & Rupp, 2015)

Fashion’s Faux Pas of Hiring for Cultural Fit


solution was replace Jeffries along with exclusive ideals and bring on board a more diverse team of leaders or the Office of the Chairman, who currently oversees the company’s strategic direction and day­today operations.
The similarity/attraction paradigm offers an explanation why hiring managers in the fashion industry hire for cultural fit. Carpenter & Weikel state, “In essence, people are attracted to others like themselves. That attraction can occur across a range of characteristics, including attitudes, values, and demographic variables” (p. 39). Similarity may improve cohesion of a group and limit disagreements (Carpenter & Weikel). Similarity also affects communication by improving openness of relationships with a team (Carpenter & Weikel). In contrast,
“dissimilarity within teams has been associated with decreased information exchange, increased personal tension and friction, as well as greater turnover, stress, and dissatisfaction”(Carpenter &
Weikel). Jeffries practices at A&F illustrate the negative outcomes of similarity/attraction within an organization.
A former A&F business executive reveals the challenge of working with
Senior executives came and went, none able to exert any influence over Jeffries. If they had ideas different from his, it didn’t turn out well. Jeffries talked of retiring one day but pushed out potential successors. The board of directors, composed mostly of local businesspeople, deferred to him in this matter, and most others
(Berfeild & Rupp, 2015)
The above example shows the similarity/attraction phenomenon occurring within an organization on a executive level. arpenter and Weikel 2011 research states,

Fashion’s Faux Pas of Hiring for Cultural Fit


CEOs will feel more comfortable with those with whom they share basic characteristics. That comfort will translate into more frequent communication and greater affinity. Thus, according to the similarity/attraction perspective, those managers who share basic demographics and experiential similarity with the CEO should be more likely to be included in the inner circle and so to be more involved in strategic decision making. On the other hand, those managers who differ from the CEO in terms of basic demography and experience should be less likely to be included in inner circle and so less involved in strategic decision making.
This attraction

between manager and subordinate translates into better attitudes towards, and perceptions and evaluations of subordinates by the supervisors. Stated plainly, sharing some key characteristics with the CEO can serve to elevate a subordinate in the eyes of that CEO.
(p. 40)
Benefits of Diversity
Dissimilarity within an organization also has advantages. Carpenter and Weikel research suggests dissimilarity among teams and management has benefits including the ability to process more complex information, to better consider multiple alternatives for problem solving, to better test underlying assumptions, and to stimulate more creative thinking (p. 40). Friedman states that too much similarity can stifle performance and fosters complacency when, “no one is challenging us to think differently” (2015). Similarity also breeds overconfidence. We overestimate the accuracy of our opinions and invest less effort in our decisions, making errors more common” (Friedman, 2015). Friedman cites the results of problem solving experiment among a homogenous and heterogenous groups.
In a 2009 study teams of three were asked to solve a problem with the help of a new colleague who was either similar or dissimilar to the existing group. While homogenous

Fashion’s Faux Pas of Hiring for Cultural Fit


teams felt more confident in their decisions, it was the diverse teams that performed best.
The newcomers pushed veterans to reexamine their assumptions and process data more carefully—the very thing they neglected to do when everyone in their group was similar.
As result, inclusion of diverse perspectives within top management teams has become an accepted practice (Carpenter & Weikel, 2011). Friedman notes that, “ finding the right degree of cultural fit in a new hire is tricky” (2015). When the work is simple and creative thinking is rarely required, a homogenous workforce has its advantages (Friedman, 2015), but in a creative industry such as fashion
, exposing people to different viewpoints can generate more value than preserving cultural fit. Carpenter and Weikel research suggest that in order to achieve the benefits of a heterogeneous team while avoiding the tensions of counter­culture, companies should hire diverse top management while allowing CEOs to maintain a smaller, more familiar inner circle.
The fashion industry’s fixation on appearance affects its hiring practice of choosing candidates whose looks and lifestyle reflect the brand a company sells. Though it seems logical to only hire talent that fits the culture of the brand image, companies are overlooking counter­culture talent that may challenge conventional thinking and generate new ideas. This kind of conflict within an organization is healthy and prevents overconfidence from groupthink and avoids common errors. Hiring managers in the fashion industry should select talent based on attitudinal and value similarities, not solely based on cultural fit in terms of appearance or demographics. This would ensure an inclusive team that despite their diverse backgrounds would share company values and optimize creativity and performance from different challenging perspectives. Fashion’s Faux Pas of Hiring for Cultural Fit


Berfeild, S., & Rupp, L. (Jan, 2015). The aging of Abercrombie & Fitch: Behind the decline of
Abercrombie & Fitch and the fall of its mastermind, Michael Jeffries.
Retrieved from­01­22/ the­aging­of­ abercrombie­fitch­i58ltcqx
Carpenter, M., & Weikel, M, (2011).
The Handbook of Research on Top Management Teams
Northhampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.
Friedman, R. (2015, March). 5 myths of great workplaces.
Harvard Business Review.
from­myths­of­great­workplace s Hoenig,
C. (2014). Abercrombie cans discriminatory CEO. Retrieved from­cans­ discriminatory­ceo/
Manlow, Veronica. (2009).
Designing clothes: Culture and organization of the fashion industry
New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Stokes, A. (2013).
Fashioning gender: A case study of the fashion industry
. Retrieved from Stokes, A. (2015, April).
The glass runway: How gender and sexuality shape the spotlight in fashion design.
Gender & Society
, Volume 29(Issue 2), 219­243.…...

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