As Uber and Google struggle with accusations of workplace misogyny, the beauty retailer has created a digital workforce dominated by women
Sephora is powered by beauty and brains.
Never a particularly female-friendly setting in the first place, Silicon Valley has had a torrid past year on that front. Uber, the most valuable start-up of all time, has lost a chief executive and perhaps billions in its valuation thanks to allegations that its top brass perpetuated an anti-women workplace culture. Google has been struggling to deal with a viral letter widely deemed as sexist by an engineer it then sacked. Even Apple, the world’s most valuable company, was panned after it put only one woman on stage for its eagerly anticipated September keynote.
Then, there’s Sephora. Unlike the rest of Silicon Valley’s tech workforce, which is overwhelmingly dominated by white and Asian men, 62% of the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned cosmetics chain’s IT employees are women . That compares to about 23% at major Bay Area companies, data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission show. (By comparison, about 15% of Uber’s engineering gigs are occupied by women.) Sephora’s high percentage of female techies doesn’t take into account its numerous boutique staff, which are any freebie-hogging boutique visitor will know, is overwhelmingly female. The beauty retailer has about 25,000 employees worldwide.
So how did Sephora get to a place where five of the jobs on a six-man digital executive leadership team are held by women? The company has “that longer-range view of what would be better for the organization in terms of talent development,” a former top recruiting exec at the company told the Wall Street Journal.
The heavy presence of female digital execs seems to have helped Sephora financially too. While LVMH doesn’t break out specific sales figures for its respective brands, sales from its selective retailing group—of which Sephora is a key component—totaled 6.28 billion euros ($7.37 billion) in the first half of 2017, up 15% from the corresponding period last year. On recruiting website Glassdoor, Sephora has a very respectable 3.7 out of 5 star rating; its chief exec Calvin McDonald is the highest-rated C-suite leader on the website this year.
Here are three lessons everyone can take away from Sephora’s success in creating a culture conducive for female talent.
1. Associate the product with female engineers. At Sephora, most techies use goods it sells and that helps for both digital marketing and back-end efforts. “It’s easier to forecast what’s coming and what’s going to be needed because the line is so fine between you as an employee and you as a client,” a former marketing exec told the Journal. She recounted an incident in which female co-workers saw a cool highlighter being used in a fashion shoot and ensured that it was being promoted on the retailer’s website within days. While the line between cosmetics buyers and women is admittedly thin, this doesn’t have to hamper Uber or Google, who also have significant numbers of female users. According to the Global Web Index, 48% of the ridesharing app’s users are women.
2. Promote for potential. A Hewlett-Packard report made famous by Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” found that women tend to apply for promotions when they met 100% of the jobs’ requirements, whereas men were likely to put themselves up if they hit six out of ten notches. To combat this, Sephora specifically instructs its recruiters to push women to apply for jobs they’re not—yet—qualified for. The beauty retailer also rotates women from other roles into digital jobs that may be more technically challenging to ensure they have a 360 view of the business. “Even if a female candidate doesn’t have all the requirements for a technical job, we want that person to come in and show what they can do,” Yvette Nichols, the company’s vice president of talent, told the Journal.
3. It gets easier. According to Harvard University’s School of Public Health, having more women on a company’s board of directors in turn makes it easier to attract and retain female talent throughout the company. That’s because women then have internal role models to look up to, making them more likely to feel that a path of progression is possible. At Sephora parent LVMH, just under 40% of key execs are female and its pledged to bring the number up to 50% within three years.
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