Below is a blog from our Catalyst CEO Champions For Change storytelling series, “Spotlight Stories.” Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing these stories to show what’s working at Catalyst Champion companies that help to advance women into leadership.
Avon is known as “the company for women,” and to this 131-year-old organization, it’s more than a slogan. Avon—which built its brand by giving women the opportunity to succeed on their own terms—today boasts a global workforce comprising 60% women. But even it is not immune to one of the most common corporate gender balance problems: a smaller proportion of women at the senior leadership level. While globally women constitute 41% of the director and above population, a position many organizations would envy, Avon is committed to raising the bar, most notably in its Latin American region where the decline in representation of women at the leadership level is steeper.
To address this challenge, the region has developed a comprehensive strategy to help fill that leadership pipeline through its Women in Leadership (WIL) Program. Says CEO Sheri McCoy:
“I am very proud of our Women in Leadership Program in Latin America. Avon has earned an enviable reputation for being an employer of choice for women, with a high proportion of women in senior roles across all areas of our business—and we’re working hard every single day to ensure we bring more women into senior positions. This program is a fantastic example of how we’re driving this agenda as part of our business processes.”
The intent of WIL, launched in 2015, is to give high-potential women in mid-level roles the tools and long-term support they need to ascend the ranks towards leadership positions. Participants are given access to formal training programs, exposure to senior leaders they otherwise would not have, help with career planning, assignments that broaden their experience, and mentorship from senior executives. In return, they are asked to develop a legacy project that will inspire their fellow female colleagues. The inaugural class consisted of 11 women across four countries—Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico—and has produced great results.
Nearly half (45%) of participants have experienced a change in their position, either through lateral development or promotion, and 20% have moved from roles at the manager level to the director level. Because the program is meant to evolve as it grows, participants have also been encouraged to take an active role in co-designing it for the benefit of future classes. For many participants, the whole of the WIL program has been invaluable, but they are most proud of their own efforts to “pay it forward.”
Marcela Sañudo, Senior Human Resources Business Partner in Colombia reports:
“Over the last 21 months, I have had the opportunity to think about my development and my opportunities from a totally new perspective, and I feel empowered to advance my career. However, the most important aspect of the program for me is the inspiration I feel to share what I’ve learned with other women. I want to help others break the glass ceiling.”
With regard to the program’s larger impact in her region, she says:
“Women in Leadership LatAm has definitely influenced both women and men at Avon Colombia. Today, the topic is on the table, and I believe it has contributed to important achievements, like increasing the percentage of women on the Andean Board from 0% to 22% in less than two years.”
This inspiration to move the needle for women at Avon is what compelled Marcela to build a program through which she has now trained nearly 60 women, leveraging much of what she learned through WIL. She is not alone.
In Brazil, a group of WIL participants has expanded and enriched the existing local Women’s Network, making it more inclusive and dynamic by opening it up to live and virtual audiences, and recruiting senior Avon leaders as well as external thought leaders to present. In Colombia, two of Sañudo’s colleagues and fellow WIL participants recently created the Colombia Gender Equality Committee. The group seeks to unite employees across backgrounds and levels to work together to develop initiatives that help elevate female talent throughout the organization.
However, the strides being made in Latin America represent just a portion of Avon’s larger commitment to helping the women in its workforce thrive. In 2014, the company launched its Global Women’s Strategy, the culmination of a year-long, data-centered effort to better understand how it was faring as an employer from the perspective of women employees. The result was a strategy, applied across 11 geographies covering over 70% of the workforce to date, that redoubled Avon’s efforts to support women across several key action areas: benefits, flexible work, talent development, and pay equity.
And while the company’s culture has always leaned toward having individuals and teams work in whatever way is most comfortable for them, the Global Women’s Strategy also led to the institution of a formal flexible work policy; one that provides local markets with rationale, benefits, and guidance on successfully implementing their own flex-time systems. Markets ranging from the Philippines to Mexico, and Argentina to South Africa, have successfully adapted their own set of flexible work arrangements from the global model.
The Global Women’s Strategy also provides a framework encouraging each geography to conduct local benchmarking comparisons of benefits and support for working mothers, with the goal that in any market, Avon is meeting, or exceeding, market standards. With such a strong commitment to prioritizing women, it is no surprise that Avon has consistently been included in lists such as Working Mother’s “100 Best Companies” for 13 years running.
Says CEO McCoy:
“Empowering, championing, and supporting women are at the heart of everything we do—and have been since the company was established more than 130 years ago. We’re proud to be an employer of choice for women, and work hard to create an environment in which women can thrive and develop their careers.”
Through programs like Women in Leadership in Latin America, and umbrella efforts like the Global Women’s Strategy, Avon continues to build on its heritage of working hard for working women. And with the help of the company’s stewardship, Avon women around the world are feeling the positive effects in their work and in their lives.