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H&M controversy highlights diversity needs more than ever

H&M: The image was removed from all H&M channels (Photo credit: H&M)

‘DIVERSITY’ IS a buzzword these days. It has the potential to boost the UK economy by 24 billion, according to the Government’s new industrial strategy, and has the support of MPs to celebrities who fight the good fight of inclusion and equality. And on the surface it seemed to be working - and I mean SURFACE.

Brands tend to appease our diversity cries by including a wide range of models or celebrities in their advertising campaigns - from L'Oreal to ironically H&M - two brands which often flew the diversity flag for brand ads and cool points on social media and equally have found themselves in controversy surrounding race and inclusion.

L'oreal's #YoursTruly campaign for their True Match foundation, featured models and social influencers across various races - including transgender model and activist Munroe Bergdorf. Following a frankly honest post on Facebook by the model regarding race and privilege, she was quickly fired from her L’Oreal contract for starting an open discussion about racism on social media - a conversation which has seen her catapulted into the public, despite the french cosmetic brand’s decision to axe her from their campaign.

The point of mentioning L’Oreal is that they are one of many brands who have used a person to fill their diversity quota. Adding a black transgender model and activist to their campaign alongside a host of stars to ‘celebrate’ their diversity and product was a smart move when the diversity was focused on image and image alone.


CATALYST: Munroe Berdorf (Photo credit: L'Oreal)

But when it got real and Munroe decided to speak on said diversity on a wider scales and the reality of racism - she was fired. I guess most brands just want a pretty face to fill their quota - until they actually speak up of course.

This to me indicates the mentality of many brands - to fill their diversity requirements when needed but to fire or reprimand them when they speak on their experiences of someone who is of a diverse background - and even more worryingly, brands are simply filling these diversity quotas for image only and not to increase diversity within their companies.

Sure, it’s great to see the likes of Jourdan Dunn, Joan Smalls and Imaan Hammam in campaigns for brands like H&M - but what good is it if it’s all for style and no actually substance?


Models Jourdan Dunn and Imaan Hammam in H&M ad campaigns (Photo credit: H&M)

I"d be interested to know the makeup of the H&M UK advertising and PR team. How did no one see the issue with dressing a little black boy in a top with the slogan 'coolest monkey in the world?' Probably because their departments aren't diverse enough - or not enough people from diverse backgrounds are in high enough positions to make such calls.

Last year, it was reported by Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and the British Academy of Management (BAM), that only six per cent of management jobs in the UK are held by minorities – less than half their proportion of the working-age population as a whole. This is why - as tiresome as the word diversity has become - we must fight for it in order to move beyond the ad campaigns and things we see for face value and progress into much higher and important positions were decisions can be made and change can be implemented.

Don't fall for the one person of colour in an advert or catalogue amongst a sea of white faces - that's not diversity - that's ticking a box to make you feel comfortably about spending your coin.

I think Rihanna said it best when discussing why she didn’t have a transgender model in her initial Fenty Beauty ad campaign: “I’ve had the pleasure of working with many gifted trans women throughout the years, but I don’t go around doing trans castings! I respect all women, and whether they’re trans or not is none of my business! I don’t think it’s fair that a trans woman, or man, be used as a convenient marketing tool. Too often do I see companies doing this to trans and black women alike!”

What Rihanna said is exactly what these brands are doing - using diversity - whether that’s diversity in terms of race or gender - as a convenient marketing tool rather than taking diversity seriously and increasing that within their boardrooms.

H&M’s attempt at diversity like many brands were for the wrong reason and highlighted a bigger issue - who is making the decisions and allowing these ads with severe racial undertones be used? I certainly doubt it was a person of colour - and that's the real issue. Don't buy into what is being pushed and look beyond the surface. Seek diversity where it truly matters now more than ever.

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