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The Furniture Industry’s Trillion-Dollar Diversity Problem

A quick look at the most current U.S. Census shows that 76% of Americans are White, 13% are Black, and 6% are Asian.

That should come as no surprise. But when we think about the furniture industry—which is primarily made up of older White men—is there a disconnect between the people in the C suite and the people actually buying the product?

Most American consumers are not White. While studies have shown that, on average, White Americans spend more of their disposable income, people of color (POC) in the U.S. have substantial and growing buying power and influence.

In 2019, consumer expenditures by Black households totaled approximately $835 billion, according to one report. And combined spending by all Black households has increased 5% annually over the past two decades, outpacing the growth rate of combined spending by White households (3%).

A few years ago, Asian Americans were the fastest-growing consumer segment in the U.S., spending $1.2 trillion annually. Asian American households on average had a 41% higher income than the national average in 2013, and by 2024 Asian American buying power is projected to reach $1.6 trillion. 

And while Asian Americans are still high spenders today, the annual Hispanic household spending reached 1.9 trillion in 2020—making Hispanics the single largest and highest-spending minority group in the U.S.

But how does diversity look in the C-suite?

Of the 279 top executives listed at the 50 biggest companies in the S&P 100, just five of those executives were Black—and two have recently retired. 

Another analysis shows that only 8% of C-suite executives are Black, and as of December 2021, companies including Walmart, Pfizer, T-Mobile, Costco, Honeywell and Qualcomm don’t have any Black executives.

The percentage of other POC people in the C-suite is low as well—about 4% of executives are Hispanic, and around 5% are Asian.

These numbers are embarrassing, and they’re creating a huge disconnect between the people who develop and sell the product and the people who buy and use it. 

There’s no doubt that there are several groups of POC consumers and executives that our industry is missing out on due to our lack of diversity, and the process of becoming more inclusive must begin at all levels—from the sales floor to the C Suite.

There’s no one surefire way to mediate this issue, but there are a few things companies can start doing to bring more POC into the industry. 

On the consumer side, some sharp marketing that appeals more directly to POC is a great place to start. Studies show that minorities tend to care more about a brand’s overall values, so start by highlighting the social or environmental values your company works to achieve.

And when it comes to making the workplace more diverse, think about the requirements you put on your job listings. For certain jobs, especially marketing, you may want to waive the college degree requirement—Black American college graduates owe an average of $25,000 more in student loan debt than White graduates. And four years after graduation, 48% of Black students owe an average of 12.5% more than they borrowed.

That’s just one example. But if we continue to take down the barrier that prevents POC from entering our industry, we’re doomed to fail. 

The sooner we can fix it and embrace people of all backgrounds, races, and ethnicities, the better it will be for business and the world.

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