In order to meet the expectations of an increasingly social-minded consumer base, retailers need to look inward and evaluate their current company cultures and diversity and inclusion practices. This was discussed at the National Retail Federation’s Retail Converge virtual event during a session titled, Pursuit of a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace.

A big topic of conversation for the panel was the need to build diversity and inclusion into companies’ and teams’ DNA, through consumer and employee perspectives.

“I’d say from the start, your vision and your strategy really has to be rooted in your core values,” said panelist Maria Febre, head of employee belonging at Gap Inc. “It’s important to our employees, it’s important to our customers.”

Febre explained that when Gap launched its Commitments last year, many team members were eager to get initiatives started right away. However, it was crucial for the retailer to pause and create space for leaders to listen to employees of color first before making any decisions.

In the end, Gap Inc. took feedback from its employees, along with data, to help it identify what efforts to focus on.

Fellow panelist Sharon Leite, CEO, The Vitamin Shoppe, echoed the importance of company culture in D&I efforts. She shared that similar to other retailers on the panel, The Vitamin Shoppe didn’t have disciplined D&I initiatives until recently.

“If you were to look at our demographics across the organization, you would see that we had a lot of cultures […] but in terms of the education effort, to be much more purposeful about the message, to get involved, that was born out of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Leite said. “It’s the work we will continue.”

Leite explained that this can’t be an HR initiative. “It has to be a company initiative,” she said. “It has to become who you are, how you act, and how you behave.”

One way this showed up in The Vitamin Shoppe’s D&I efforts is by having difficult conversations and being comfortable with it. “It’s been very freeing in that we can have those difficult conversations so we can make substantive change,” noted Leite.

Another session at NRF Retail Converge focused on a different kind of diversity and inclusion; that is diversity and inclusion around the disabled community in the fashion and retail industries.

Two companies that have put a lot of effort into creating and showcasing adaptive clothing (i.e., apparel designed for people with physical disabilities) are Tommy Hilfiger and Zappos. Both companies were represented on the virtual panel.

“We have a purposeful mission at Tommy Hilfiger and have set a variety of targets to hit over the next five years, and adaptive is a key part of those targets and commitments,” said Sarah Horton, senior director of integrated marking and innovation at Tommy Hilfiger, and the global marking lead for Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive. “We want to remain a benchmark for adaptive fashion.”

Zappos also puts a big focus on meeting the needs of people with disabilities, whether that’s facilitating focus groups to better understand the types of products people with disabilities want or highlighting models with disabilities to showcase the products being sold on Zappos.com.

“We work with influencers with disabilities to help spread the awareness to their communities and abroad,” said Dana Zumbo, business development manager at Zappos Adaptive, Zappos.com’s curated shopping experience of functional, fashionable products to make life easier.

However, there’s a lot more work the retail industry needs to do to meet the needs of the disabled community.

“The general awareness around disabilities five [years] or six years ago wasn’t what it is today,” Zumbo said. “It certainly is more mainstream. However, there are still not enough brands creating product with accessibility in mind.”