Contrary to what’s been written in the media, Former Abercrombie & Fitch Chief Diversity Officer Todd Corley did not quit his position, his role was eliminated. He sat down with Diversity Executive to discuss his time with the controversial retailer and to share his plans for the future.
Whitney: Why did you leave A&F? What went wrong if anything?:
Corley: Nothing went wrong. I transitioned out of the organization to dedicate myself to my passion in advocating for inclusive leadership.
Whitney: Why did they eliminate the role?
Corley: I don't know. I believe it was a business decision.
Whitney: Given the amount of legislation Abercrombie has been hit with in the last couple of years it’s an interesting decision to eliminate the role.
Corley: I agree.
Whitney: What are you most proud of from your time at A&F?
Corley: I’m most proud of how the associate population in the stores really rallied around the framework and strategy that I laid out. They were really open and willing to be engaged in moving the conversation forward. From my vantage point, they understood – and no one did it perfectly all the time, no one does – as a generation they were really open minded about how do we do this? How can we learn more about inclusion, the conversation, to be a champion, to get off of the fence and be neutral and be proactive?
I’m really happy with that, and I’m really happy with how my team, which was a small team, made sure that the strategy on D&I was connected to everything related to managing the business. It wasn’t just about hiring differently, it was about changing processes and procedures, holding people accountable, nudging people who didn’t want to be nudged and being a loud voice on many issues that may have been unpopular. In my thinking – and I’ve done this work for so long – if you have that moral compass and you don’t bend it and that rattles a few cages, that’s what it is. At the end of the day we are accountable to have an environment that’s open. It’s about how people come to work every day. I was really proud about that. The associates certainly gave me encouragement every day to keep doing the work.
Whitney: Were you surprised to leave? Did you feel your work was done?
Corley: No, the work wasn’t done. I was surprised the job was eliminated.
Whitney: What would you hope happens in your absence at A&F?
Corley: I wish them nothing but the best. I hope the legacy that was created around this work will continue. There are no ill feelings. It was a business decision, and from my perspective businesses make decisions all the time. Whether or not they’re right, wrong or second guessed, that’s not for me to do, but I wish them the best going forward, and I hope that they embrace what was built.
Whitney: What’s next for you? I know you’ve created the TAPO Institute, and I heard it would be affiliated with Georgetown.
Corley: We’re looking to collaborate with Georgetown to promote something I learned in the last 10 years at A&F, which is that this generation of young people, the generation of the future today, they have always been transparent, always been authentic and persistent and optimistic about what inclusion means and what it should look like. For me, TAPO is focused on helping organizations really understand the value in being an inclusive leader.
I was inspired to launch the TAPO Institute because it is important to me that inclusive leadership prevails. It has to prevail when building brands outside of the U.S. It really has to transcend how you move an organization forward. For me, taking that leap of faith to say, listen, now I have an opportunity to build on a strategy that has, without argument, worked in terms of changing one organizations internal approach. TAPO is an opportunity for us to do more of a deeper dive, to conduct research around strong inclusive leadership styles, help organizations really embed it inside their companies and create an anchor for how they manage their business or organization. And this is not just for a business that may be for profit. There are nonprofits, philanthropic organizations that may struggle with how do they get it right from an inclusive perspective.
I think TAPO, that acronym, being transparent, authentic, persistent and optimistic, those are strong traits that milennials embody. They have essentially created a threshold that everybody, regardless of the generational group, aspires to. I’m really looking to promote that in companies and nonprofits and just spread it. That’s what I’m going to focus on. The Georgetown piece is huge in that they can be a great research partner but also an academic driver for some of the conversation.
Whitney: Thank you for your time, Todd.
Corley: Thank you.