Why Abercrombie scrapped its "hot staff" policy

28 April 2015 -


A hiring policy at Abercrombie & Fitch that deliberately played up the “hot” qualities of sales staff has been condemned as patronising by the firm’s own management. We highlight five diversity essentials that bosses must observe

Jermaine Haughton

An Abercrombie & Fitch hiring programme that specifically enlisted buffed-up Caucasian males to sales roles and urged them to parade around stores topless has been scrapped by the firm’s senior executives. The change of tack quashes the approach of former leader Mike Jeffries, who referred to retail staff as “models”. From now on, they will be dubbed “brand representatives”, and be recruited from a wider cross-section of society, as the company seeks to overhaul its public image.

Before he left the firm in December last year, Jeffries explained his so-called “Look Policy” in an infamous interview with Salon. “We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends,” he said. “Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” But following pressure from activist investor Engaged Capital, that stance has been replaced by the more measured tone of his successors, Christos Angelides and Fran Horowitz, who said in a statement that the old system was patronising and too heavily tailored to Jeffries’ “whims”, adding: “We’ve put the customer at the centre of the business.”

In recent years, managers have begun to wake up to the notion that having a more diverse melting pot of employees produces far more innovative and competitive cultures. For example, a September 2013 report from global think tank the Centre for Talent Innovation found that publicly traded companies who were more gender and racially diverse were 45% more likely to have expanded their market share in the preceding year than firms with less variety in their ranks.

The more recent Chartered Management Institute (CMI) report The MoralDNA of Performance offered a series of tips for boosting diversity in companies. Here are five highlights:

1. Develop new leaders

By training ambitious workers to make more ethical and responsible business decisions, those values will be enshrined in new talent at the top. Indeed, a Gallup study published today urges bosses to select managers based on their natural talent, their contribution and their strengths.

2. Make values-based decisions that show you really care

A robust, vibrant and diverse working environment needs a strong code of conduct that highlights the respect required for all workers, and allows everyone to feel confident in expressing their ideas. Codes should embody general principles to guide decision making, rather than compliance-based regulations.

3. Harness diversity to challenge “groupthink”

Too often, business progress is stifled by “follow the herd” mentalities. As such, bosses must actively review how they can incorporate people from different backgrounds and experiences, who can bring fresh ideas to solving organisational problems. Constructive dissent can enhance reasoning.

4. Win hearts as well as minds among colleagues and contacts

Diversity is about more than just hiring different races, genders and sexualities into the workplace – it is about stimulating active participation on the issue across the workforce, and even with suppliers. With that in mind, companies should consistently review employee engagement levels, and examine how the companies they work with approach diversity.

5. Escape the unintended consequences of short-term targets

While meeting financial targets is clearly vital, employers should avoid restricting themselves to too many short-term, quantitative goals. Businesses should also equally focus on longer-term, ethical targets that inspire better workplace cultures – harder to quantify, but key to nurturing sustainable, profitable performance.

Useful links:

The MoralDNA of Performance (CMI)

Delivering Equality and Diversity: a summary guide (Acas)

Is groupthink stopping true diversity being achieved in business? (Virgin)

Discrimination: your rights (UK government)

Image courtesy of pio3 / Shutterstock.

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