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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

How men give cosmetics major L’Oréal a headache

Having more men among its 90,000 global employees might also help the firm better understand and win male customers

The L'Oreal chairman and chief executive Jean-Paul Agon. Charles Platiau/Reuters
The L'Oreal chairman and chief executive Jean-Paul Agon. Charles Platiau/Reuters

In his first assignment for L’Oréal, Rob Imig spent 10 months pitching a shu uemura lipstick to beauty editors across the country.

The editors - all women - often reacted with confusion or amusement. “The reaction was a bit startled sometimes,” says Mr Imig, now a 13-year veteran of the company. “The beauty business is dominated by women. They thought it a bit odd that a guy named Rob was coming to show them a new lipstick.”

While big companies around the world are striving to improve the gender balance of their workforces, most are focusing on hiring more women. But for L’Oréal, balance means attracting more men. The €25.8 billion (Dh112.98bn) French beauty products company has been a pioneer in the push for gender equality, regularly earning awards for its efforts. Women manage 58 per cent of L’Oréal’s brands and hold almost two-thirds of executive positions, although the chairman and chief executive, Jean-Paul Agon, is male. In 2017 the company ranked first in Equileap’s annual ranking of 3,000 global corporations on their progress toward gender equality.

L’Oréal has been so successful at developing a reputation as a female-friendly workplace that women job applicants flock there. One result: last year, 77 per cent of new hires were female. Therein lies a problem. “They have a huge gender gap,” says Jonna Sjovall, the managing director for the Americas at Universum, which ranks the most desirable employers among business and engineering graduates worldwide. In its most recent tally of US employers, L’Oréal was in ninth for women business graduates but only at number 150 among men.

The beauty company’s managers worry that the gap could put it at a disadvantage in recruiting. “For a big corporation like us, attracting talent for the future will be a huge topic,” says Jean-Claude Le Grand, L’Oréal’s head of diversity and inclusion. “We need to attract more male talent.”

Having more men among its 90,000 global employees might also help L’Oréal better understand and win male customers, who are becoming increasingly important in the beauty business. The market for men’s grooming products will expand 3.3 per cent annually over the next five years, compared with 2.9 per cent for beauty and personal-care products in general, according to data from Euromonitor International.

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L’Oréal, which does not sell razors, ranks third in the US$47.8bn men’s grooming market, with a 5.6 per cent share in 2016. The leader Procter & Gamble, the maker of Gillette razors and Old Spice cologne, had 18.7 per cent, while Unilever, which owns the Axe brand, had 10.9 per cent. No L’Oréal brand is in the top 10 for men in market share, although the company’s Baxter of California targets men. Several of its other brands, such as Kiehl’s and SkinCeuticals, are marketed to both sexes.

L’Oréal’s goal is to recruit equal numbers of men and women by 2020. “Our vision is clear: We want a perfect balance between males and females,” says Mr Le Grand, who’s headed the company’s diversity efforts since 2005.

One way L’Oréal is working to attract more men is by tweaking the way the company presents itself to job applicants. On the jobs site for L’Oréal’s US unit, shots of the glamorous models and makeup used in the company’s consumer advertising are nowhere in sight. Instead, prominently featured are photos of a goggle-wearing female chemist seated at a microscope and a male employee who runs a tech incubator that develops products such as an electronic hairbrush.

L’Oréal today is also more likely to emphasise the entrepreneurial aspects of a job, such as developing a product or having profit-and-loss responsibilities, which often appeal to male applicants. “We’re not just a company that sells makeup,” says Angela Guy, L’Oréal’s US diversity chief. “We develop our own products, we have R&D, manufacturing, engineering, and other jobs in tech fields that may interest men.”

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Joelle Emerson, the chief executive of Paradigm, a diversity consulting firm in San Francisco, says that using images of women and men in nontraditional roles is likely to appeal positively to both genders. “Signals and messages,” she says, “can have a significant impact on who’s going to be attracted to working for you.”

Underrepresented groups - including men in the beauty industry - will not apply for jobs that emphasise innate abilities, such as having “a brilliant mind” or “an eye for” something, says Ms Emerson. “They believe, and not incorrectly, that they are more likely to be stereotyped,” she says. It’s better to emphasise the opportunity to develop skills in a job, she says.

L’Oréal still has work to do to integrate women into its highest ranks. It is not uncommon for women to make up the majority of the workforce at fashion and beauty companies “because of their affinity with the product or service,” says Aniela Unguresan, the head of EDGE, a Swiss-based organisation that certifies organisations and companies, including L’Oréal, on their gender equality programmes. “You have a thin layer of male talent at the entry level, but at the top, the pattern is reversed,” she says. “The definition of leadership is still largely male.”

Just a decade ago, men held 76 per cent of the top 1,000 positions at L’Oréal, 83 per cent of the strategic positions, and 93 per cent of the seats on the executive committee. Today, although women have made gains overall, their ranks thin in the higher posts. They make up 48 per cent of the top 1,000 positions, 30 per cent of the strategic positions, and 32 per cent of the executive committee.

Mr Le Grand wants to balance that group by 2020, and the company is providing managers with bias and inclusion training to make sure they can send the message to their staff and develop and promote female leaders. L’Oréal is also encouraging women to take on science, technical and engineering positions traditionally dominated by men.

Meanwhile, to help make the workplace more welcoming for men, L’Oréal in recent years has sponsored an affinity group for male employees in the US, the Men’s Think Tank, which hosts speaking and networking events, shares insights with management and helps with recruitment. The company says the group shares the credit for increasing the number of male hires there by 27 per cent in 2016.

Mr Imig, who was part of an otherwise all-female team at Kiehl’s from 2007 to 2015, today oversees five women and two men in the Vichy beauty brand’s digital communications department in Paris. His boss is a woman. “Communications was predominantly women 10 years ago; that’s no longer the case,” he says. “There are still not a lot of guys, but I’ve never felt anything but accepted.”

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