3 lessons organizations can learn from the Abercrombie & Fitch documentary


Netflix just released White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch; a documentary highlighting the ups and downs of Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F). The documentary chronicles the retail giant’s tumultuous journey and is a cautionary tale of what happens when established companies fail to prioritize fairness as they grow and evolve. Business leaders as well as anyone managing a workplace should watch, as several lessons can be learned. This article highlights three important takeaways from the Netflix documentary.

1. Own past mistakes. Founded in 1892, A&F has changed shape over the past century and has become a household name. Generation X and Generation Y can have fond memories of the brand, which peaked in popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Over the past few decades, the company has continually found itself in hot water, as shown in the documentary. Perhaps the most notable controversial case the company found itself embroiled in was a religious discrimination case that ended up in the US Supreme Court. The company’s refusal to hire a Muslim woman, Samantha Elauf, who wore a hijab as part of her religious practice, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Organizations thinking about this need to understand that receipts are forever; any attempt to rectify past transgressions committed by employees or company officers should involve acknowledgment and ownership of the wrongdoing, regardless of how long ago it occurred. In an email, A&F CEO Fran Horowitz said, “The recently released documentary does not reflect who we are now. We acknowledge and validate that there have been exclusionary and inappropriate actions under the “former leadership. With social media, past mistakes are easily accessible. That’s not to say that companies should forever be vilified for past mistakes and missteps, but all too often, organizations involved in scandals want to moving forward without putting structures and systems in place to prevent wrongdoing from happening again In addition to making corporate statements, which are often meaningless, words must be followed by strong actions to catalyze change.

2. Leadership accountability is key. In the aforementioned email, Fran Horowitz said of the documentary “Since I became CEO in 2017, we’ve revamped A&F and intentionally transformed ourselves into a place to belong. We’ve evolved the organization , including making changes to leadership, prioritizing representation, implementing new policies, redesigning our in-store experiences, and updating the fit, size range and style of our Another lesson organizations should learn from the documentary is how vital leadership accountability is.In 2005, A&F settled a class action lawsuit based on a discriminatory “look policy” that was in place, which many believe , showed a preference for white male job seekers. As a result of the lawsuit, the company had to create a diversity office, a formal complaints system and pay millions of dollars applicants who are discriminated against on the basis of race or sex. The specific ways the company has held executives accountable are vague. For all DEI efforts to succeed, organizations must prioritize leadership accountability. No matter how many measures are in place to increase diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, without holding decision-makers and those in power accountable for their actions and behaviors, no change will be possible. Accountability measures must be built into the fabric of the organizational system.

3. Discrimination is no longer sustainable. A&F has engaged in countless instances of discriminatory behavior in its processes, procedures and policies. In a 2006 interview, former CEO Mike Jeffries said, “Are we exclusive? Absolutely. Struggling companies try to target everyone: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you go totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anyone, but you don’t excite anyone either. In 2022 and beyond, consumers are no longer ready to accept bad corporate behavior. In today’s era, consumers appreciate brands that speak out about social and political issues. Behaviors that flew under the radar in previous decades will not go unnoticed now. A&F had the money, fame, and status to permanently clean up their messes, but for smaller, lesser-known brands, failing to prioritize DEI will spell near demise. Every year, companies large and small must audit their corporate policies. Don’t be afraid to revise archaic and outdated practices. Invite a DEI consultant or human resources business partner to perform a fairness audit to verify areas that need improvement. Refusing to evolve will no longer be a sustainable practice; In addition to costly litigation, companies could suffer irreparable damage to their reputation and image.

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