In recent months, various industries have come under scrutiny over their lack of gender representation in upper management. Although significant progress has been made, with 40 per cent of today’s global workforce female, only 5 per cent of chief executive officer [CEO] positions are held by women, according to an analysis by CNNMoney. The technology sector, in particular, has found itself in the hot seat earlier this year after salary database Comparably released a study highlighting the industry’s pay gap, revealing that women under 25 earn on average 29 per cent less than men the same age. Interestingly, the multibillion-dollar beauty industry, which sells primarily to women, has been largely absent from this much-needed conversation, despite being predominately spearheaded by men.
Dawn Watt is global PR manager for FOREO, a cosmetic company that specialises in technically advanced beauty products that firm and nourish skin. During a thought-provoking discussion with MOJEH, Watt explains why, in an industry that’s principally aimed at female consumers, men occupy the vast majority of management positions. “A lot of CEOs at beauty companies are poached from existing successful businesses beyond this industry, and have proven track records in, for example, tech companies or publishing,” she explains. “They all come from that same pool of high-earning, high-powered executives, and they’re very attractive to shareholders.”
Be that as it may, it’s been proven that increasing the number of women in leadership positions improves a company’s bottom line. A study by Harvard Business Review suggests that boosting females in upper management from zero to 30 per cent is associated with a 15 per cent increase in profitability. Simone Gibertoni, CEO of Clinique La Prairie, one of the world’s most iconic Swiss brands, tells MOJEH that such change is “inevitable”. “Far-sighted management in a global sector where there are so many regional differences and specificities must be able to put together a heterogeneous team that brings innovation and uniqueness, and at the same time is able to respond to different local needs.”
For Watt, it’s important to note that the beauty industry fares better in comparison to other sectors such as health, banking and energy. She further adds that male leaders can be extremely beneficial and are able to cater to women in various ways. “A male CEO in a beauty company isn’t inherently negative, but it [beauty] is a strangely lopsided industry in that respect,” she says. “The problem, if it is a problem, is not endemic to the beauty industry, but represents a much broader gender bias in business generally.” And while there are “promising signs of progress”, she acknowledges that “we can see that the wider industry is currently still far from egalitarian at the top.” According to LedBetter Gender Equality Index, brands still have an average of just 29 per cent female leadership across all boards and executive teams.
Gibertoni expresses his admiration for female role models, and stresses their importance in empowering the next generation of beauty business owners. “I have been lucky,” he says warmly, “in both my experience in consulting and later in the world of beauty. I have worked with a lot of women, many of whom are in positions of great responsibility.” Watt agrees that mentors are essential to increasing the number of women holding powerful positions. “[Current statistics] boil down to the limitations on women in business education, and to hiring processes,” she explains. “Women should be encouraged to get into business education courses, and the industry should make business ownership more attractive to women by forcing a change in conventional attitudes.”
A new wave of women-led start-ups including Birchbox, Glossier and Ipsy are doing just that. “When it comes to empowering women to be business owners, we [FOREO] are entirely supportive,” smiles Watt. “It’s an exciting time, because changes are real, and progress is being made.” Coty, for example, which owns several influential brands such as Covergirl, Sally Hansen, OPI and Philosophy, had no women on its board until earlier this year, having previously employed an all-male executive team. “It [diversity] is absolutely key to our [beauty industry’s] success: that blend of backgrounds, viewpoints, experience and intuition is incredibly valuable,” says Watt. “That can’t be taught – it can only be the result of diversity.”
Demonstrating fairness, however, requires support from those who already hold upper management positions – and they tend to be men. “[It’s important] to encourage men currently occupying those positions to take a more positive attitude towards diversity,” insists Watt. “Speaking very frankly, it would be very useful to see some of those influential men using their influence to make the changes we want to see.” And while it’s no secret that we have yet to achieve equal gender representation in the business world, there’s little doubt that lasting change is taking place, which will better meet the needs of today’s modern women. After all, the more we’re able to help direct and develop products that empower us, the better.