Inclusivity Issues Are Prominent in All Industries—Even at Women-Centric Companies

Fashion and beauty brands sometimes make products that don’t consider all hair, skin and body types

three different pictures of women; on the left is a woman wearing a beige headdress; in the middle is a woman laughing while wearing a striped dressed; on the right is a woman modeling in lingerie
Even companies that cater to women have issues being inclusive enough.
Sources: Fenty Beauty, ModCloth, ThirdLove

Industries viewed as catering to men have long faced accusations of excluding women. In the past year alone, the esports industry and professional sports leagues have worked to overcome the perception that their advertising and marketing dollars are aimed squarely at men. With women making up 49 percent of Super Bowl LII’s viewership, those questions took on additional significance: Why are we acting as if women aren’t interested?

Surprisingly, however, women-focused industries grapple with the same issues of inclusivity. Despite welcoming women via their branding, these industries often still have sizable gaps when it comes to both access and representation. Women-oriented arenas like fitness, fashion and beauty tend to tailor their offerings—and their marketing—to specific members of their demographic. Knowingly or not, they exclude whole segments of the female population.

Some of this might be blamed on who are running these companies. “The Glass Runway,” a study coordinated by Glamour, McKinsey & Company and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, found that only 14 percent of the top womenswear brands are run by women CEOs. While women enroll in fashion schools in disproportionately high numbers, they’re ultimately hanging out on the lower and middle rungs of fashion companies and not in decision-making roles where they can influence what makes it off runways and into stores where real women shop.

There’s a difference between being inclusive of women and being inclusive of all women, and forward-thinking companies are working to overcome this disparity.

Wealthy and healthy

Though women-oriented industries often feel more celebratory of women’s issues than others, they’re not always celebrating the broader group.

The average gym membership costs up to $50 per month, with initiation fees and other charges bringing the annual total to $800. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found in 2018 that women’s income was 51 percent less than men’s, including time without any income. Like others working with a limited income, this means that women have an increased chance of suffering from obesity and other health problems.

But that socioeconomic disparity doesn’t apply to women equally. The boutique fitness movement has been highlighted for its lack of diversity, and many big fitness brands have a higher percentage of white clientele than they should given the country’s racial makeup. Fitness marketing is generally “fit people talking to other fit people.”

Organizations like Black Girl in Om and Gixo are working to create inclusive spaces in the women’s fitness realm. Black Girl in Om’s casual classes regularly sell out, and its founder, Lauren Ash, explains that segments of the population don’t feel comfortable in standard gym or studio settings, which were originally intended to be safe spaces. Gixo’s founder, Selina Tobaccowala, says she established the on-demand fitness app to accommodate women who need to get healthy but face high gym fees, gym deserts or packed work schedules) that don’t enable them to hit the gym. With instructors able to work virtually with users on accommodations, the app hopes to address a broader range of fitness levels as well.

Stylish and sizeist

Often lamented for its unrealistic body standards for women, the fashion industry both encourages women to look a certain way and to regret not having yet achieved it. Its aspirational marketing is part peer pressure, part money-making endeavor; by making articles of clothing accessible to only certain segments of the population, fashion brands gain exclusivity and a premium price.

Sizeism within the industry—including comments from leaders of a variety of large labels—implies that style is reserved for those of a certain size. With the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education finding that the average American woman wears between a size 16 and a size 18, brands are losing in volume what they’re gaining in premium prices. The Telegraph noted that even an Ashley Graham Vogue cover wouldn’t change the industry’s problem.

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