Making inclusion count at Gap Inc.

By Lottie Watts
Published Jul 15, 2021

Bahja Johnson started in the rotational management program and is now Gap Inc.’s first head of customer belonging. Get a close look at how her passion for inclusion is improving the bottom line, how to influence change and more.

Here are a few questions, along with Johnson’s answers (watch the video above for all “20 Questions”):

Why is retail the industry you picked for your career?

Retail actually picked me. My fun fact is I am truly a Gap baby because my parents met as store leaders at Gap brand in the late 80s. It’s been the industry that raised me, and Gap specifically is the brand I always saw growing up.

Even as my parents went on to work for different retail companies, they were field warriors. I grew up going on secret shop visits with them and meeting so many of their coworkers around the country who had this passion for retail and for the customer.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Founding the Color Proud Council – Gap Inc.’s first product inclusion initiative truly focused on bringing diversity to the bottom line of the business through diversity and inclusion.

I founded the council after about five years at Gap Inc. working in merchandising. It was clear to me early on that if you don’t have inclusion in the building, your output is not going to be representative of the customers that you serve. It took a moment of bravery when I finally wrote to a brand leader because I felt like we had an opportunity to be better for our customers and employees, and truly get to the heart of being an inclusive – by design – company.

How do you measure success in your role?

When you’re doing diversity and inclusion work, success is thought to be hard to measure. I think about it in two ways.

One is the products and campaigns. It’s easy to look at just the financial contribution. You have to get creative. At the time of launch, one of our Banana Republic True Hues shoes Instagram posts was the most liked post of all time for the brand. When you’re thinking about looking at new customers that have never seen themselves before, it does take a while for the financial metrics to come through.

The second thing is seeing and hearing leaders share our philosophies around product inclusion and customer belonging with their teams, and then watching them integrate our new philosophies into their ways of working. You are changing the game from the inside out.

For those who may not have a resource like Color Proud within their own company, how can they work to create change?

What really started from Color Proud was finding advocates and leaders within the company that allowed me to just ask questions. And then when I wasn’t in the room, ask the same questions, too. The catalyst for change, especially now, is finding advocates and leaders who will be there to challenge what is – whether you are in the room or not. 

What is one misconception about retail that you would love to debunk?

We do more than sell clothes. We dress people on their most important days: interviews, wedding days, graduations, first dates.

And because we’re dressing people on our most important days, we have the responsibility of making people feel good in their clothes. That is powerful. It’s why I’m so passionate about customer belonging, and customers in general. For so long, only a small subset of our wonderfully diverse population was guaranteed that feel good feeling. It’s our responsibility to change that.

Get valuable real-world experience – and up to $5,000 – with our case competition. Gather your team for the NRF Foundation Student Challenge and develop a new brand that embodies the meaning of diversity (review eligibility requirements and submit your work by Oct. 10).

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