Designer Brands Earns National Recognition for Progress in Diversity Thanks to Employee-led Efforts

Posted on 1/23/2020 2:54:27 AM

This week, the associates at Designer Brands have a lot to celebrate. Two recent national awards – one from the Human Rights Campaign and another from Forbes – prove what those inside the company already know.


“Our company has always felt inclusive,” said Mindy Halasz, who works as the IT Service Desk Supervisor for Designer Brands and co-chairs the MYSELF Business Resource Group alongside Senior E-Commerce Product Designer Raymie Smith. “But it definitely feels like we’ve made progress, too.”


Halasz said this progress can be seen internally through policies such as adhering to the standards of the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI) and externally in the customer experience.


Attracting new customers is a growth priority for Designer Brands as it transforms for the future. A key to that is being relevant to a young and diverse consumer market that craves social responsibility from its preferred brands. But inclusion must be driven from the inside out. If the associates aren’t bought in and feeling that love themselves, it doesn’t mean a thing.


That’s where the Business Resource Groups (BRGs) come in, and it is how Designer Brands is making meaningful change for all associates. Designer Brands’ unique BRG structure – which includes resource groups focusing on members of the LGBTQ community, women, parents/caregivers and black associates – works to encourage associates to spot and address workplace issues that matter to them.


All but one of the seven BRGs at Designer Brands are led by associates and not corporate executives, meaning that progress develops organically via the associates most directly affected by the policies for which they advocate. 


In particular, earning a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s CEI comes from a concentrated effort to meet that goal. And the impetus for that goal comes from a grassroots effort led by MySELF, the BRG focused on making the company a better place for its LGBTQ associates.


Each year, MySELF works to set a new batch of priorities to improve the workplace for LGBTQ associates. After MySELF reaches a consensus on their recommendations, these goals are presented to company leadership. For this year, one goal was clear – the 100 percent ranking on the CEI.


Halasz said there was quick alignment between MySELF and company leadership on the CEI goal. Last year’s score was a 95 percent, and that improved to 100 percent after including gender affirmation surgery as a paid benefit in the company’s insurance policy. The HRC announced Designer Brands’ perfect score on this year’s CEI Jan. 21.


The CEI is considered to be the nation’s premier benchmarking survey and report measuring corporate policies and practices related to LGBTQ workplace equality. Designer Brands joins the ranks of more than 680 major U.S. businesses that also earned top marks this year.


According to the Human Rights Campaign, “The results of this year’s CEI showcase how 1059 U.S.-based companies are not only promoting LGBTQ-friendly workplace policies in the U.S., but helping advance the cause of LGBTQ inclusion in workplaces abroad. Designer Brands’ efforts in satisfying all of the CEI’s criteria earned a 100 percent ranking and the designation as a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality.”


Designer Brands was also named as one of Forbes’ “America’s Best Employers for Diversity” in 2020. The honor is chosen based on an independent survey that asks employees of large companies (1,000+ employees) questions regarding their age, ethnicity, disability and the general diversity of their workplace.


The awards are nice. That the changes help Designer Brands associates is better.


“The CEI recognition is so meaningful to us, given that this effort was led by an internal team,” said Amy Jo Donohew, vice president of human resources for DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse and the leader of the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.


With the higher CEI ranking secured and a product line to match, Halasz said Designer Brands and DSW are increasingly known to the LGBTQ community as a welcoming place to work or shop.


“The community takes the CEI ranking pretty seriously,” Halasz said.


Just as seriously as Designer Brands takes having a welcoming, positive environment for everyone.