BUY UP INDEX REPORT: The Beauty Business and Women

Beauty started with Aphrodite. Ever since the appearance of the goddess, leadership in the beauty sector has had a female face: founders and executives such as Mary Kay Ash of the namesake brand; Florence Nightingale Graham, founder of Elizabeth Arden; Avon’s former CEO, Andrea Jung; and icons like Estee Lauder and Helena Rubinstein. Today, however, only one Fortune 500 beauty and consumer goods company, Avon, is helmed by a woman, Sheri McCoy. Not that many when you consider the industry as a whole employs 8.2 million people.


Avon is also the only company we surveyed with a majority-female board. At the other end of the spectrum, Coty lacks even a single woman on its board and executive committee. Overall, however, two-thirds of the beauty companies beat the Fortune 1000 average of 16.6 percent female board membership.

Consumer goods conglomerates Procter & Gamble and Unilever both boast programs aimed at advancing women through the ranks and have the results to show for it: Unilever’s board is 36 percent female, as is 42 percent of its managers. P&G has a 45 percent female board, and 38 percent of its managers are women. But the company will soon be passing on its beauty brands to Coty with a very different landscape.


Of course, programs and plans are not enough to keep women in the pipeline to upper level management. Company culture, leave policy, and flexibility are also important factors that ensure women succeed.

Working at a beauty company undoubtedly has its perks, such as free makeup or shampoo, but treating female employees well takes more than a cosmetic effort. Several companies go above and beyond to create a more inclusive workforce, offering access to childcare, on-ramping for recent mothers who have taken time off, and flextime. At Unilever, 73 percent of employees compress their work week.

Johnson & Johnson, Avon, and L’Oreal stand out. Johnson & Johnson provides discounted tutoring for employees’ children, access to childcare resources,and counts 95 percent of employees using flextime or telecommuting. Both companies devote resources to diversity, beyond reporting employee and supplier statistics: Avon through company-wide affinity groups for minorities, and J&J through "Diversity University," an online program.

In April 2015, J&J announced an important revision to its maternity leave, now offering 17 paid weeks. The leave doesn’t have to be taken consecutively, and will be retroactive to parents who welcomed a child after May 2014.

Avon’s Phase Back to Work program helps transition new moms back to the workplace, and the company offers paid time off for adoptive parents, as well as a $10,000 adoption reimbursement. L’Oreal has announced the unprecedented Share & Care Program, which seeks to align local economic performance with economic performance globally. By the end of 2015, L’Oreal employees in 68 countries will have health insurance, death or disability benefits of two years of salary, and 14 weeks maternity leave. Shiseido, by contrast, offers just two weeks for both moms and dads.

Serious about female leadership, several companies in the industry track the percentage of women managers: many go way above the average of 40 percent, such as Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal, and LVMH. When companies make a concerted effort to keep women in the pipeline, the results can show at the top.


Based on our scoring of advertising, product toxicity, and corporate philanthropy, beauty companies by and large do know how to treat a lady. Just about every beauty company has Corporate Citizenship that benefits women. Nearly all surveyed companies scored well on advertising, showing women engaged in activities outside the mom sphere and featuring models of color. A few even dared to be funny. Procter & Gamble wins for the most stereotype breaking ads - which could relate to the company’s overall high score. Revlon photographed Laverne Cox from "Orange is the New Black," a feat only preceded by MAC’s connection with RuPaul. A few dared sell pretty with humor - Jennifer Aniston mugs for J&J’s Aveeno and Tina Fey for L’Oreal’s Garnier.

The beauty industry does have its ugly side. Of the 14 companies we rated, only Avon, Johnson & Johnson, and Natura Cosmetics scored well on avoiding potentially harmful chemicals, while the others - Procter & Gamble and Elizabeth Arden, in particular - push products containing ingredients that have been singled out by consumer groups for removal (check the SkinDeep database for details). **

Because beauty companies target mostly female consumers, so do many of their philanthropic and corporate social responsibility endeavors. Revlon, Avon, and Estée Lauder all have high-profile initiatives around fighting breast cancer. Although lacking in female leadership, Coty made news last year by announcing its new focus on mental health. CMO Jill Scalamandre stated that the Philosophy brand will contribute 1 percent of every product sold to local organizations working around women's mental health and well-being. The goal is to raise $2 million by the end of 2015 and $15 million over five years. Avon is one of those rare companies that support efforts against the very ugly issue of domestic violence. MAC Cosmetics (the wild child in the Estee Lauder family) has been a leader in CSR, devoting all the profits of VIVA Glam lipstick to HIV and AIDS initiatives. In over 20 years, MAC has raised more than $250 million. (Compare that to Bobbi Brown, whose Pretty Powerful Campaign for girls donated just 1 cent from the sales of mascara with the retail price of $29.) Johnson & Johnson, the health and beauty conglomerate, supports multiple health-related projects, including many focusing on maternal and child health. L’Oreal has supported hundreds of female scientists through a fellowship program. Perhaps some of them are working on finding new, non-toxic ingredients for the cosmetics of the future?

As well as these majors, there are many women-owned cosmetic companies that take a small percentage of the market, such Jane Iredale or the new purse-sized Stowaway.


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An earlier version of this story may be seen on VITAMIN W.