As a European platform based in Berlin with employees from more than 130 nations, we strive to be a tolerant and inclusive place to work. We want Zalando to be a company where there is absolutely no place for racism and discrimination.
Diversity and inclusion is an ongoing journey and we continue to seek ways to do better. As part of our efforts to improve, our Code of Ethics sets clear expectations for the professional, ethical, and responsible behavior of all employees.
Recently, allegations have been made where we allegedly have not lived up to our own expectations or the expectations of our customers and partners, and we have taken this issue very seriously. Below is an update on what we have learned and what we will do to continue to improve in the future.
In June 2020, allegations of racism pertaining to model booking, photo retouching and discriminatory language were raised by a former employee of Zalando Studios via social media channels. In line with our Code of Ethics, we took the initial allegations dating back to 2018 (“core allegations”) extremely seriously, and we took action. We asked current and former employees of Zalando to report any additional concerns and investigated related complaints (“additional allegations”) in order to get a more accurate picture of where our company stands. At the same time, we launched an internal investigation led by our Compliance team. To allow for an independent view, we mandated the external law firm Pohlmann & Company, specialized in compliance topics.
26 interviews with current and former employees were conducted and the relevant material, including hundreds of photos of models, model booking guidelines and relevant chat or email communication, was reviewed. The investigation did not confirm the core allegations. It did however find that in 2018, instances of language and behavior that were perceived as insensitive or discriminatory took place. At the time, Zalando leadership took immediate steps to address these instances in the core case, aiming to resolve misunderstandings and careless misuse of language in a mediated discussion with the parties involved.
Some of the interviewees reported additional use of inappropriate language, but despite our efforts in the investigation, they could not be directly connected to individuals. We fully acknowledge that in cases of discrimination, many instances go unreported. Moving forward, we pledge to ensure that every Zalando team member feels encouraged and comfortable to speak up and/or report when either they or other colleagues experience a behavior in violation of our Code of Ethics.
In addition to the original allegations, we uncovered and investigated six more unrelated complaints from across Zalando. They can be categorized as microaggressions which are defined as a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group. Just as with other types of discriminatory behavior, microaggressions are unacceptable at Zalando and in direct violation of our Code of Ethics. We are addressing this topic through educating our employees and pursuing consequent management when there is evidence of such behavior.
The Zalando Compliance Board follows the conclusion and recommendations of Pohlmann & Company and refrains from disciplinary action at this point in time. However, we will use what we have learned through this investigation to become a better company where every employee feels included.
We assume top management accountability and sponsorship for implementing the following measures immediately:
- Issue a clear internal ‘tone-from-the-top’ communication against racism, with explicit reference to our Code of Ethics and other relevant rules
- Ensure transparent and consistent process descriptions and guidance for model booking and content creation, as well as for potential reshoot instructions, and ensure adequate guidance and resources to style POC models
- Make anti-discrimination and communication trainings mandatory on all grade levels and embed inclusive leadership in leadership development trainings
- Internal communications campaign of our Code of Ethics, inclusive language guidelines and grievance mechanisms, and ensure timely feedback for those who report incidents, even if this is outside the formal reporting channels
“Racism has no place at Zalando. This has always been our position and we are constantly seeking ways of ensuring that is everyone's experience. The findings from this investigation have given us a better picture of where we stand and also offer specific ideas of where we can do better to ensure that everyone, whether that be an employee, a customer, a model or a partner - feels equally valued, heard and empowered,” says Zalando co-founder and co-CEO Robert Gentz.
FORWARD-LOOKING DIVERSITY & INCLUSION MEASURES
We are committed to a sustained, long-term change to ensure a truly inclusive environment for all our employees. In order to accelerate this change, our HR department as well as a cross-functional task force of senior leaders from across all business units together with our Black Employee Connection, one of Zalando’s employee resource groups, has been working on the following short and long-term measures concurrently to the investigation:
1. We are finalizing a company-wide inclusive language glossary to help teams communicate in an unbiased and inclusive manner.
2. We performed a critical review of our cross-team Image and Influencer Guidelines together with our employee resource groups to ensure that the way we present our fashion offer to customers - for instance, through the models we book - is free from any offensive and discriminatory content and that it continues to champion Black and People of Colour as well as body positivity and an affirmation of LGBTQI+ identities and lifestyles
3. We are building additional capacity within our D&I and Equality teams
4. As per the commitment made late last year, we will publish the first edition of the annual Diversity & Inclusion Report this autumn which will lay out in greater detail our efforts and plans in all areas of diversity. Following its launch, we will conduct a voluntary internal survey to get a better understanding of how our organization self-identifies
5. Our Supply Team will be investing in sourcing Black and minority-owned brands. We want to diversify our partner base to support independent and up-and-coming businesses who are aligned with our overarching and long-term commitments to (a) sustainability and (b) diversity and inclusion
6. We updated our employee-facing guidance on the Whistleblowing tool to explicitly encourage to also report discriminatory incidents or microaggressions
7. We are developing and executing a broader inclusion strategy for the Black Community, starting in Berlin and eventually reaching across our markets in Europe
Being an organization that meets and exceeds the diversity and inclusion expectations of our team members, our customers and partners is a focus for our business. By becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization we are aware of the potential to create broader positive change - for our employees, customers and partners.