By By Emily Cummins, Assistant Features Editor
When applying for a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch store or corporate headquarters it is likely that you will be asked "What does diversity mean to you?" This is a very important question these days when trying to interview future employees in an attempt to sift through the bunch to find who is desirable, but what does Abercrombie & Fitch find desirable? What does diversity mean to them?
This week Alpha Kappa Psi planned to hold an event titled "Abercrombie & Fitch: Diversity in the Workplace." Larisa Yarmchuck, from the Office of Diversity at Abercrombie & Fitch, was to discuss the benefits of diversity and how to hire people with diversity in mind.
The event never happened though. Just a few hours before it was to take place; those invited were informed that the event had been cancelled and that the speaker was no longer working for Abercrombie & Fitch.
This is nothing against the university's business fraternity, but this event reminded people of the various news stories about Abercrombie and its failures in diversity like the 2004 case of Gonzalez v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores where the plaintiffs, comprised of a several thousand women, claimed that they were not hired by the company despite great qualifications. If they were hired they were used in less visible positions like stocking and cleaning up. The court settled with 40 million dollars in favor of the plaintiffs.
The company then had to make many changes, and now boasts that their "in-store workforce, as a whole is 50.22% people of color, in-store models are 48.44% people of color and our in-store managers-in-training are 41.04% people of color. "
And this is great. They understand what they did wrong, they took the necessary measures and improved on it, but apparently color may be the only type of diversity Abercrombie & Fitch is willing to accept.
In 2009, Samantha Elauf sued Abercrombie & Fitch for discrimination. A year prior she was turned down for employment by the company because her hijab, a Muslim headscarf, did not fit their image. The company claimed that her clothing was prohibited by their "Look Policy." This year they were sued again for the same issue.
Now it is unclear whether or not the company is attempting to change their "Look Policy" and include exceptions in regard to religious practices, but it would be the thing to do if diversity was of true importance.
Those who work the front end of the store are called "models;" this is a position different from sales associate and it has more to do with being a representing the look of Abercombie & Fitch.
Calling them models seems strange. When they were previously called brand representatives the job sounded as if it was their responsibility to look like the normal customers that would be buying the clothes the only difference would be that they would have a put together look that you would want to buy.
The term model denotes something else entirely though, and so do the individuals that they are hiring. If you have ever walked around in the mall you may have noticed the chiseled and tan teen showing off his bare chest and fitted jeans standing directly at the front of the store. His companions will include girls who can probably slip in and out of a size zero without fussing with the button.
Now there is nothing wrong with being skinny and there is nothing wrong with being muscular, but we see this imagery in advertisements all the time. It is a constant reminder to those who don't fit the image that they don't belong, that maybe they need to improve themselves.
It is one thing to have to see thousands of advertisements everyday that sell sex and objectify bodies, but it is overkill to see it again once you're already in the store. It only seems inevitable that Abercrombie & Fitch will soon be sued for discrimination against those of a different size or shape than what is "desirable."
If they are truly honest when it comes to wanting to be diverse then they should show it, but for now it seems that their answer to "What diversity means to you?" is a very simple answer of dollars and cents. They make changes only to cover their previous actions and only when those actions have cost them some serious cash.