Headshot of Antonio Robinson, senior vice president of corporate social responsibility, Carter's.
Antonio Robinson, senior vice president of corporate social responsibility for Carter's, the apparel marketer that includes OshKosh B'Gosh, shares the company's DEI efforts. — OshKosh B'Gosh/Carter's

Three tips for creating an effective diversity strategy:

  • Focus not only on recruitment, but also on career development.
  • Measure and monitor diversity metrics in areas such as pay equity, retention, new hires and internal promotions.
  • Communicate. Make sure everyone understands what the company is doing and the strategy behind it.

Children’s apparel brand Carter’s is fine tuning its diversity strategy by broadening its recruitment reach, focusing on career development, and taking a hard look at numbers to discover where work is needed to increase diversity across its value chain.

Antonio Robinson is leading that charge. In 2020, Robinson was promoted to senior vice president, corporate social responsibility, to lead the strategy for all ESG (environmental, social and governance) matters, in addition to diversity and inclusion and compliance.

He joined Carter’s more than a decade ago and established the company’s Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee to develop a formal strategy for DEI as it relates to employees, customers and communities.

Here, Robinson shared his thoughts with CO— on what does and doesn’t work when it comes to shaping an effective DEI strategy.

Recruitment isn’t the sole solution: Invest in career development, too

Over the course of Robinson’s career, one of the biggest mistakes he has seen companies make in their DEI strategy is “the incessant focus on the recruiting part, bringing people in the door but failing to create a structure of engagement to keep them. They leave in a few years,” Robinson said.

At Carter’s, “We have focused on broadening our reach and recruit at HBCUs [historically Black colleges and universities] and other means, but ultimately all employees want to build their career, to feel connected to the culture. I had mentors and sponsors in my career here. We believe formal and informal mentoring activities are essential ways in which we fuel engagement,” he said.

At Carter’s, cross-functional meetings with senior leaders for all VPs, directors and managers are scheduled regularly. “Focusing on career development is just as important as recruitment. What works best is coupling recruitment with development,” Robinson said.

To that end, the company launched a mentor partnerships program in 2012. Since then, more than 1,100 people have participated in the initiative, which includes curated programing for employees throughout the year, with a large majority of Carter’s global employees attending virtually in 2021.

[Read: Diversity Leaders from WW, LinkedIn and Seattle Seahawks on Building—and Retaining—Inclusive Teams]

Over the course of Robinson’s career, one of the biggest mistakes he has seen companies make in their DEI strategy is “the incessant focus on the recruiting part, bringing people in the door but failing to create a structure of engagement to keep them. They leave in a few years,” Robinson said.

Keep community top of mind

Diversity isn’t just a priority on the employment side. “It’s also about the community” a brand serves, said Robinson. “We want to make sure that our brands are inviting to communities of color and that all families feel welcome when shopping for our products,” said Robinson.

It’s not about a one-time transaction, he said. Instead, “It’s about layering deep cultural insights into our full consumer experience and building a long-term relationship in which consumers think of Carter’s when they think of buying for people they love. Accomplishing this means appreciating and respecting everyone who shops with us, in an authentic and personalized way,” said Robinson.

At the same time, Carter’s is sharpening its longtime focus on childhood well-being with an emphasis on early childhood education. “Every child deserves a fair shot at a successful life. We believe that can be realized through education,” Robinson said. “The equity piece is that Black and brown communities need access to and support with early education. We will put a lot of effort there over the next 10 years.”

Carter’s has set a goal to improve the well-being of at least 10 million families and at least 1 million workers within its global value chain by 2030 by financially supporting organizations such as United Through Reading and Quality Care for Children that provide educational services and access to early childhood development and care. “That list of partnerships will continue to grow as we reach our goal to support 10 million families,” said Robinson.

[Read: Top Diversity Executives from 3M, KPMG and Fidelity Reveal Inclusivity’s Return on Investment]

Be guided by data

Research can help companies chart their DEI path. “You have to do your homework,” Robinson said. Carter’s analysis revealed that in 2020, 52% of vice presidents and directors were women. Although the company has been recognized as one of the best employers for women, Robinson said they are striving to obtain more racial and ethnic diversity at the vice president level and above.

Carter’s continually measures and monitors diversity metrics with respect to pay equity, retention, new hires, internal promotions and identified successors.

In 2020, 65% of Carter’s new hires for U.S. roles were racially or ethnically diverse. As a result, “We have gained more perspectives on how to serve our consumers,” said Robinson.

To measure engagement and identify areas for improvement, Carter’s plans to conduct a global employee survey in 2022.

Establish good governance

“[Diversity and inclusion are] under my purview, but no one person can take this on,” said Robinson. That’s why Carter’s created an executive Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Steering Committee and an ESG Advisory Council. They take on tasks like reviewing products and marketing collateral to make sure it is not offensive, and that it is authentic and credible. For example, at one monthly meeting the council reviewed a product that used sign language in the artwork. A council member, who is a signer, identified a graphic that needed technical revisions to be accurate.

The council is also responsible for developing programming to celebrate cultural and ethnic holidays, “which has seen a positive reaction from employees of all backgrounds,” Robinson said.

Look to stakeholders

“In our research, we turned to employees and consumers,” Robinson said. “We found that consumers, especially millennials and Gen Z, want to do business with companies that reflect the values that they care about.”

For example, after the murder of George Floyd, Carter’s started having listening sessions with small groups of employees. “We wanted to hear from them, what suggestions and ideas they had. We understand that we need to have more voices so that we make better decisions,” said Robinson.

The listening sessions proved successful. Employee feedback revealed that the increased engagement was appreciated. “Employees expressed their ideas which helped make us a better company,” said Robinson.

He added, “We didn’t want to give reactionary statements in response to the murder of George Floyd; [instead we wanted to] have a long-term strategy, like customers seeing an increase in diversity in our marketing.”

Communication is key, Robinson said. “We want to make sure everyone understands what we’re doing and the strategy behind it. We have a D&I newsletter that comes out every other month to help keep people informed.”

The overarching strategy, said Robinson, “is to increase diversity across our value chain. We want to be sure we’re making the best investments, those that have the right impact on our business. It’s early days yet. I feel good about where we are and where we’re going.”

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