Designer Brands MySELF Business Resource Group Empowers Associates and Supports LGBTQ+ Community

Posted on 6/13/2019 9:57:12 PM

Designer Brands MySELF Business Resource Group Empowers Associates, Supports LGBTQ+ Community

Designer Brands recognizes the importance of supporting specific communities internally and in our hometown of Columbus, Ohio. 

MySELF, DSW’s first Business Resource Group, has actively supported the LGBTQ+ community since its grassroots creation four years ago. It’s one of the most vibrant and active at the company and counts many allies in its ranks.

This year, we’re celebrating Pride in a big way. MySELF planned the company’s first Pride Week at the home office, with activities scheduled throughout the week, culminating with a large group of associates marching in the Columbus Pride parade on Saturday June 15.

“The goal of our Pride events is to increase the visibility for MySELF and increase ally participation,” said Raymie Smith, senior product designer and co-chair of MySELF. “This year we have more associates participating than in the past. The events we’re planned are to educate associates why we’re marching on Saturday.” 

The Pride committee, which is active throughout the year, planned several educational and fun activities for associates, starting with Drag Bingo with Vivian Von B. on Tuesday. It was an opportunity for associates to have fun playing bingo while meeting and networking with people from other departments.

On Thursday, MySELF hosted a discussion panel about how Pride inspires self-expression. Columbus-based drag performers Virginia West, Anisa Love and Courtney Conquer joined several Designer Brands associates (and members of MySELF) to share what Pride means to them.

The highlight of the week is the Stonewall Columbus Pride parade. A contingent of more than 170 DSW associates, friends and family will march in support of the LGBTQ+ community. More than 12,000 are expected to march this year.

For associates, Columbus Pride parade is more than just a fun experience. It’s also a platform to companies like Designer Brands and DSW to demonstrate their support for inclusivity, diversity, acceptance, and self-expression.

This year’s Grand Marshall is Andrew Levitt (famously known as Nina West). Columbus Pride is celebrating his artistic accomplishments, advocacy, and philanthropic activities. Levitt created The Nina West Fund at the Columbus Foundation, which has raised more than $2 million in support of charities such as the ACLU of Ohio, Kaleidoscope Youth Center, Equitas Health, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, Dress for Success Columbus, BESA Community, and Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio.

The Designer Brands lobby is also displaying a Pride flag during June, signaling to associates, vendors, partners and candidates that we stand for Pride and the LGBTQ+ community. 

WorldPride in NYC

For the first time this year, a group of Designer Brands associates will participate in the New York City Pride march on June 30.

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, NYC Pride will host the global WorldPride event this year—the first time this event has been presented in the US. Millions of LGTBQ+ guests are expected to celebrate the Pride movement in the place where it began in 1969.

“I’m really excited to walk in WorldPride with the company I work for, along with executives and the collective Designer Brands group,” said Alessandra DiRenzo, eCommerce site search analyst and MySELF ally. “Because it’s also the 50-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots, I think it will be even more impactful to be there. DSW is putting us out there in a big way and I’m excited to be part of it.”

The Pride Collection

This year, MySELF successfully influenced the company’s merchandise buyers and greatly expanded the Pride collection of products offered in DSW’s warehouses (what the company calls its store locations).

In 2018, DSW offered six styles of shoes related to Pride. This year, the Pride collection includes more than 40 products, from shoes to accessories, as well as a purchase-with-purchase: a rainbow water bottle or rainbow shoestrings.

“For Pride 2018, MySELF didn’t talk about products until mid-March,” Raymie Smith said. “We learned the hard way that we had to start a lot earlier to have a meaningful impact on the merchandising and marketing strategy.”

MySELF began their outreach last September when buyers start placing orders for 2019, reminding them to think about Pride when they placed orders. “The results were amazing,” Smith reported. “This year we have 40 styles, which is a 560% increase over 2018.” MySELF also worked with the marketing team on print and digital ads, in-store marketing and merchandising which includes Pride door clings.

Justin Bale, senior product owner – mobile applications and a member of the Pride committee, said that some people in the LGBTQ+ community think that retailers use Pride just to sell more products.

“That’s one of the biggest critiques in the community. I was able to reconcile that with knowing we have the support of executives up to our CEO and board members,” Bale said. “The company has embraced Pride in a big way. We’re marketing it for everyone to see, from the rainbow flag on the DSW website to the Pride collection of products.” This year, the DSW website included size equivalents in men’s and women’s products to show non-binary sizing.

“I think it’s incredible knowing that although the Pride items may not be the optimal thing to buy or perhaps not the most profitable, it’s very fulfilling to have that representation and for the general public and associates to see that,” Bale said.

MySELF’s mission is to support and empower associates in the LGBTQ+ community to show up as their true selves at work. Throughout the year, MySELF hosts panel discussions to educate associates about different topics related to the community. Last year, MySELF hosted a National Coming Out Day discussion, where speakers shared how coming out inspires self-expression.

MySELF recently made a presentation to Designer Brand’s board of directors to talk about their work and what inspires them to get involved on top of their day jobs.

Raymie Smith and co-chair Mindy Halasz told the board that for those in the LGBTQ+ community, these associates feel valued and want to do work related to their personal identities. For many, it’s the first time in their careers that they can be their authentic selves at work.

Allies of MySELF shared personal stories about relationships with someone in the LGBTQ+ community that inspires them to show up for the community.

One associate said that BRG’s like MySELF allow associates with like minds/needs/interests to come together in one of the places where they invest significant time – work.  When a company and its leadership support the various BRG’s it gives the associates the feeling of acceptance no matter their walk of life.

MySELF and the Pride committee did an amazing job this year and we look forward to next year’s Pride activities and merchandise!

“MySELF encourages associates to be themselves and enables them to find a community within their workplace. It’s a safe place for like-minded people to get together to support the community, have events and make an impact on Columbus!”  - Alessandra DiRenzo, Designer Brands associate

“The parade on Saturday is going to be a blast! We have a huge group planning to march, so Designer Brands will be well represented. We also just learned we’ll be at the front of the parade and we are excited to bring as much positive energy as we possibly can!” - Erica Melton, Designer Brands Associate