With nationalities including Spanish, English, French, German, Greek, Russian and American, expertise from multiple business functions – and both LGBTQIA+ and straight identities – the Unlabeled ERG came together in support of the LGBTQIA+ community in Europe.
Oddly, momentum really picked up when the lockdowns took hold.
Unlabeled, Levi Strauss & Co.’s European LGBTQIA+ Employee Resource Group (ERG), was still in its early formation when COVID-19 began to sweep across the globe. As social distancing and remote working became the norm, human connection became a need. Members began to seek each other out.
“Everyone was looking for community, and the Unlabeled Committee were happy to find ways to connect and create shared purpose for everyone in Unlabeled beyond our day jobs,” said Peter Lewin, senior director of Global Direct-to-Consumer Growth Strategy and Investment, and sponsor for Unlabeled.
With that community strengthened, conversations around how to include Unlabeled in our business emerged organically. The first was a social media collaboration with the Levi’s Europe marketing team to honor IDAHOBIT, the International Day Against Homophobia, Bi-phobia, Intersex-phobia and Transphobia in May 2020. In October, the Levi’s Merchandising, Marketing and ecommerce teams partnered with Unlabeled to create the “Curated by Unlabeled” collection in honor of National Coming Out Day 2020. It generated over 18 million impressions in fashion, queer and finance websites with no media support, a marketing boon for the brand.
Unlabeled followed that up with the Valentine’s Day 2021 launch of a limited-edition collection customized by Paris-based writer and social commentator Louis Pisano. And in May 2021, the Levi’s® Europe marketing team and Unlabeled launched a second IDAHOBIT video recognizing the day.
More recently, the team behind the Levi’s Europe genderless collection on Levi.com tapped Unlabeled members to advise on inclusive language, merchandising and styling, and the Northern European leadership team partnered with Unlabeled to develop a rapid response to the new anti-LGBTQIA+ law in Hungary.
“These collaborations between the business and Unlabeled speak strongly to inclusion of the queer community by Levi’s as a company,” Peter said. “When the brand says, ‘We want to feature you on our social media channels, we want to give you a voice, we take you seriously, and we support you,’ — it’s a validation of our humanity and value as people. Sadly, we live in a world where we need that validation, and others need to see companies like Levi’s lead the way.”
The ERG also stood up “Unlabeled Fest” for employees, an annual event where members come together and hear from each other as well as outside speakers. While the event has traditionally taken place in May at the beginning of European Pride season, it’s how Unlabeled is showing up outside of Pride Month that has become, well, a true source of pride for the group. “We’re aiming at genuine integration,” Peter said. “We want people within the company to be thinking about queer inclusion every day, not just around Pride.”
The group hopes to change the conversation around “heteronormative holidays” like Christmas and Valentine’s Day with their ongoing collections by incorporating queer acceptance and inclusion throughout the year.
“Normalized, non-exceptional representation is a big step towards understanding and inclusion. It’s so important we create that voice authentically and in a way that is relevant to today’s world,” Peter said.
And the work doesn’t stop with marketing.
“In certain places in Europe, people still face the risk of persecution just for being who they are. We want to ensure we’re bringing these issues to the table and educating Europe on what’s happening in the world for LGBTQIA+ people as well as celebrating them,” said Sham Majevadia, an HR project specialist and leader with Unlabeled. “We are doing a lot of work on outreach… and are focusing on LGBTQIA+ education in schools for the next year. We want to see how we can make a difference externally by using our voice and brand to help support those in need.”
For his part, Peter is using his voice and job position to attract more LGBTQIA+ talent to the company – something he was encouraged to pursue with the support of Seth Ellison, LS&Co.’s executive vice president and chief commercial chief.
“I wanted the regional team to benchmark ourselves against other best-in-class LGBTQIA+ networks and help us understand where we’re lacking. And I knew that talent development and talent acquisition needed to be a big part of that,” Seth said. “What Peter and the Unlabeled team have put in place goes above and beyond those table stakes. It raises the bar on how an ERG can make a greater business impact and create a workplace where not only can everyone be genuinely who they are, but also foster a more empathetic environment.”
Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer Elizabeth E. Morrison echoed Seth’s sentiments, emphasizing the importance of an inclusive culture. “The work that our ERGs like Unlabeled are doing is a testament to the power and passion that’s unleashed when employees feel safe bringing their whole selves to work,” she said. “When they know and feel that the company is listening to and learning from their unique experiences and perspectives, it’s just good business!”
That kind of leader and company support has been invaluable for the ERG.
“I am super proud of how bold we’ve been. We’ve managed to use our voices to really make an impact in the external world and help show that Levi’s is a brand that truly believes in standing up for the LGBTQIA+ community,” Sham said. “I’m also really proud of how we’ve managed to connect with each other in a virtual world and not let being able to travel or meet in person stop us from doing what we want to do and creating a community across Europe.”