It is a reaction engraved in the memory of the CEO of Neiman Marcus, Geoffroy van Raemdonck.

“You won’t be a father and you won’t get married,” he said, describing what one of his closest friends told him when he revealed his homosexuality while in college.

These words shaped his career and his identity.

The journey of coming out can be intimidating for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ. For the leader of a luxury fashion chain, it’s an intensely personal story that he shares in influencing others to be true to themselves, especially during Pride Month.

Van Raemdonck, 49, calls this his “authentic self”. He considers it liberating to mix his identity as a gay man with his job as the head of the Dallas chain of stores.

The fashion industry is known for its acceptance of all lifestyles. Van Raemdonck wants Neiman Marcus to become known as a leader in providing inclusive benefits to its more than 9,000 workers.

“When you accept who you are and say it, there is nothing to stand for,” van Raemdonck said in an interview with The morning news from Dallas. “People may decide not to accept you, but that’s their problem. I am not standing up for who I am. What you are seeing is the authentic self.

Now in his fourth year at the helm, van Raemdonck has led Neiman Marcus in and out of one of the darkest times in the company’s history: bankruptcy. It emerged after losing $ 4 billion in debt that has held the company down for years.

With financial problems in his rearview mirror, van Raemdonck focused on matching the company’s benefits with his own identity.

“We live in a world where we need diversity of thought and horizons,” he said.

The need for diversity

As a young professional studying for his MBA at the University of Chicago, van Raemdonck describes one night of his personal journey when he met a man and spent the evening striking up a conversation. He considers it “one of the most beautiful moments of my life”.

It was “the most natural thing – that’s when I realized this is who I am and it’s who I connect with,” van Raemdonck told employees and others. attendees at a recent Neiman Marcus pride celebration.

In 2016, he married interior designer Alvise Orsini in New York. The couple moved from Paris when van Raemdonck got the job of Neiman Marcus.

Van Raemdonck said he spent much of his life defending who he was, and sometimes hiding his identity. During the company’s bankruptcy, he and Orsini faced a deluge of criticism when featured luxury publication their contemporary $ 2.3 million home in Dallas’ Lakewood neighborhood that Orsini decorated. This is where the couple are raising their twins.

Over the past three years, said van Raemdonck, Neiman Marcus has sought to give more leadership roles to women. Of the seven members of the company’s board of directors, four are women. The management team of the company is made up of 48% women and 100% of the management team of Bergdorf Goodman are women. 70% of the company’s workforce is women.

“It really is a one-way street,” said van Raemdonck. “We are going to embark on a journey.

Van Raemdonck said he admired the retailer’s founders for being “inclusive” leaders when the company was founded in 1907, when the first store opened in Dallas.

“It’s part of the DNA,” he said. “We are a company co-founded by a woman” – Carrie Marcus Neiman.

In 1950, the board of directors chose Carrie Marcus Neiman as president, alongside CEO Stanley Marcus and executive vice president Edward Marcus. Moira Cullen, a colleague of Carrie, was the company’s first buyer, paving the way for more women to step into leadership roles at Neiman Marcus.

Todd Sears, founder and CEO of OUT Leadership, which works with businesses on efforts to include LGBTQ identities, said developing strong recruitment and retention strategies must accompany top leaders who speak out.

“The business world is the most powerful force for equality,” Sears said.

OUT Leadership produces a Business Climate Index that measures state laws and attitudes on LGBTQ issues. The lowest score a state can achieve on the index is 25% and the highest is 100%. In 2020, Texas received a 38% rating. This has improved to 45% this year. Texas ranks 41st in the country.

CEO Geoffroy van Raemdonck inside one of the Pride windows at Neiman Marcus in downtown Dallas.(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

Addition of advantages

In honor of Pride Month, Neiman Marcus is launching several initiatives to support its LGBTQ employees.

One is an effort to improve the company’s score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, an annual ranking of policies, practices and benefits relevant to LGBTQ employees. More than 1,142 companies nationwide participated this year.

There were 767 companies topping the list with 100% scores, which gives them the right to brag about being the best places to work for LGBTQ equality. North Texas-based companies American Airlines, McKesson Corp., Texas Instruments Inc. and others were on the list. Van Raemdonck’s former employer, Ralph Lauren Corp.

Neiman Marcus estimates he will score around 85% when the index is released for 2022.

To improve its ranking, the company decided to update its code of ethics to include gender identity and expression, make medical and soft benefits for same-sex spouses and domestic partners equal to those other employees, provide insurance plans for workers who identify as transgender, create gender transition guidelines for favorable washrooms and dress codes, and implement new associate training and recruitment efforts.

“The new benefits rolling out this month and throughout 2021 complement [Neiman Marcus Group’s] outward celebration of the LGBTQ community with significant internal investments in equitable access to health insurance, relocation assistance, associate discounts and legal protections against discrimination for LGBTQ associates and their loved ones, ”a said Mimi Sterling, the company’s vice president for environment, social and governance. and belonging.

To foster dialogue between employees, van Raemdonck hosted a virtual event on June 9 with Andrew Gelwicks, author of The queer advantage, where they discussed their personal identity journeys and how to become an ally for LGBTQ people. He is also participating in a virtual event with Retail Leaders Industry Association President Brian Dodge at the end of June.

Most of the Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman store windows are displaying support for LGBTQ pride and in-store visuals this month. Neiman Marcus stores also fundraise for the human rights campaign through point-of-sale donations and “More Color, More Pride” pins online and in 10 locations.

A look ahead

For van Raemdonck, the world is changing rapidly and he said that this requires everyone to adjust their thinking.

During the Zoom event on June 9, he told the audience of 220 that his 85-year-old grandmother had previously introduced him and an ex-boyfriend as her grandchildren.

“She basically said, ‘This is my family whether we like it or not,'” said van Raemdonck.

It made her realize that if her grandmother could accept and appreciate her identity, everyone should too.

“We all have to adapt and learn. We cannot rely on just one model. We cannot trust what was true in the past, ”said van Raemdonck. “When you are faced with change, when you are faced with the unknown, your best ability to deal with it is to be able to recognize what is new and what is different, internalize it and grow. “