A&F Bolsters Gender Diversity in the Workplace

A&F AP Team
A&F AP Team

Diversity, some may argue, is an overused word in the workplace. Yet gender diversity in the workplace is increasingly acknowledged as being critical to business success, from both a risk-management and value-creation perspective.

There lies the paradox: it peppers everyday conversations precisely because companies are still struggling with getting a healthy mix of the right caliber of candidates for the right jobs from the boardroom—the lack of women in senior management roles, for example—to the shop floor, where the common characteristic is often unkindly referred to as the “pale, male, and stale” syndrome.

Retail Roles

In retail, the division is even more stark. Women, particularly in fashion retailing, represent the majority of staff, from sales assistants to store managers, but there is a significant reduction in female representation when it comes to regional managers or centralized head-office functions such as loss prevention (LP) or asset protection (AP) where women have traditionally been particularly thin on the ground.

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Those in LP posts, or applying for them, still tend to be men.

Although baby steps have been made towards recruiting more women from functions such as store operations, applicants are still predominantly male.

Anecdotally, there is a growing shift away from candidates exclusively having a security, police, or military background, more accustomed to “feeling collars” or general conflict situations, towards those also able to bring emotional intelligence and cognitive therapies to the table.

It would be overstating the point to suggest that this is anything like a road-to-Damascus development or that retailers are suddenly waking up to the need for gender diversity in the workplace. It is not an epiphany based upon the moral “right thing to do” but a commercial imperative, a decision based around better results.

To understand this concept fully, one has to grasp the notion that LP itself has switched from a “cost” to the business to an added-value function aligned with sales objectives.

In other words, LP today is all about selling more and losing less rather than simply chasing shoplifters out of the store. It is less about arrests and more about measurement and management of total loss, empowering staff, procedural compliance—getting staff to do the right things—on-shelf availability, and investigational common sense.

The world of LP has embraced better people skills for better people outcomes, whether it’s dealing with potentially dishonest customers or colleagues. Training programs such as Wicklander-Zulawski’s (WZ) non-confrontational interview techniques, for example, have seen that almost half of delegates seeking out its courses are women.

Alan Grocott, WZ trainer for UK and Europe, and himself a former head of LP for Next, said, “We are seeing a lot more women coming through the course because the nature of retail loss prevention has changed. Traditionally, LP staff were recruited through the police where there are fewer females anyway, but today retailers are saying, ‘I need someone who understands my business,’ so more people are going into LP from the shop floor management or operations, which may have driven this change.”

Some retailers are proactively pushing the “gender agenda” to make their asset protection teams reflect society as a whole.

Global fashion brand Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) has stitched diversity into the very fabric of the business, stating on its website, “Diversity and inclusion are key to our organization’s success. We are determined to have a diverse culture, throughout the organization, that benefits from the contribution of each individual.”

This is a guiding principle that has secured the US-based brand a number of international accolades including Forbes‘ 25 Companies Where Top Millennials Most Want to Work and the Human Rights Campaign’s Best Places to Work 2015.

It has also secured A&F a workforce made up of 63 percent women, including 43 percent women at the vice president level and above, and a nearly all-female executive team, including the CEO, COO, and two brand presidents. Also impressive is that 35 percent of Abercrombie’s AP team is made up of women, well above industry standard.

Gender Diversity in the Workplace: The Takeover

In September 2017, the A&F asset protection team took the diversity agenda to the next stage when it took over the company’s diversity and inclusion Facebook page (facebook.com/ANFUnited) for a week. This was a week of posts, likes, and shares centered around the AP team’s tremendous diversity, with a specific focus on female workers and their journeys through the business with a view to encourage more women towards an interest in loss prevention.

Supported from the top, Shane Berry, group vice president of asset protection, said, “In asset protection, diversity is one of the key ingredients of our success. In an increasingly competitive industry dealing with complex problems, we can only succeed when we attract, develop, and retain the best employees resulting in a highly skilled, multifaceted team of individuals that reflect the diversity of our customers.

“Diversity of background, heritage, experience, thoughts, and beliefs are essential ingredients in the effective execution of the asset protection mission. I know I speak for all of our team when I say we are committed to creating and championing an environment where our associates feel included, are treated with respect and dignity. Together and only together, we will win.”

In an initiative championed by A&F’s diversity and inclusion team, the message was clear: “Traditionally, the AP industry has lacked gender diversity, but our AP team works hard to break industry norms, and in fact employs 11 percent more female associates than the industry average.”

The takeover included video footage of A&F asset protection personnel who are women talking about their experiences.

Amila Gacanica, a senior AP executive, came to London as a refugee from the Bosnian conflict in the early 1990s. In an inspiring series of videos, she urges all women employees to get involved and look beyond the male-dominated stereotypes of the role. She was inspired to join the AP team while working in another retailer when she saw staff and customers openly stealing, almost with impunity.

“Opportunities exist for everyone,” she said. “And the role has given me a lot of confidence, and I get a lot of support from my male peers who have never made me feel in any way less capable; in fact, quite the opposite. There [are] a lot of negative stereotypes about it being physical so that women would shy away from it as a career, but it is so much more than that. It is about changing opinions, strong leadership, and emotional intelligence. The fact that I am a woman is not important-there are no limitations.”

Other examples include that of Gelila Tandesse, who began working in stores in 2006 but switched to asset protection in 2011. AP Director Joel Gurley said, “Through her collaboration with store partners, she has led by example and has remained balanced in her approach to shortage reduction. She has removed and kept her stores away from high shrink and in the last three years, achieved a 13 per cent unit shrink reduction. She is a champion of high expectations and a shining example of diversity in the workplace.”

Colin Stewart, AP director, commented upon the work of one member of his German team, Cristina Munoz in Frankfurt, describing her as, “One of the most resilient AP professionals I have had the pleasure to meet. Cristina continues to show incredible leadership in bringing teams together and achieving our greatest target store shrink reduction globally last year. We are incredibly proud of all that she has achieved and also excited for her as she embarks upon her new promotion in Berlin.”

Jowanna Lora, who works in the Spanish AP team, was also described as responsible for driving some of the greatest results from both a shrink and investigation standpoint.

The message to the entire A&F workforce was well received across the social media platforms, namely Facebook and LinkedIn, with more than 13,000 positive hits and almost 4,000 post-event follow-ups.

Colin Stewart added, “The campaign was all about fostering and nurturing the talent that we have as an organization. It should not be a stigma for women to be involved in a security role—quite the opposite, as many of the women on our teams are involved in senior leadership programs and help to change perceptions. We need to highlight this to enable women to break through the glass ceiling. This is a real challenge in Europe particularly, and whilst we employ more women on average, there is still work to do to make sure we have the right mix within our AP teams.”

Initiatives such as the A&F campaign are important to drive the gender agenda and hold a mirror up to the industry, not only to reflect the diversity that women can bring to LP but also to deflect the negative stereotypes that the industry is the birthright of the male, pale, and stale.

The industry is organically evolving towards a proactive, strategic, and results-driven approach. Thus, the new skill sets required to deliver the right results are likely to be more cognitive than combative. Physicality no longer plays a dominant role in protecting people, property, and profits.


This article was originally published in LP Magazine Europe in 2017 and updated here September 20, 2018. 

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