Since their products and messaging are mainly directed at female consumers, it’s somewhat surprising that men occupy a majority of high-level management positions in industries like fashion and beauty. But here we are.
But with an increased awareness and a concerted effort to clear a path for women to lead, we can all move closer to bridging the gender gap and better serving female audiences.
Female consumers, male leaders?
According to the U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey from 2015 to 2016, women outspent men in purchases related to beauty, fashion, and media. Despite that fact, most high-level decision makers in these industries are men. Boo!
The beauty industry has an average of just 29 percent female leadership across boards and executive teams, fashion averages 27 percent, and media averages 15 percent, according to the LedBetter Gender Equality Index.
The beauty and fashion industries have higher levels of female representation in management positions than other industries such as tech and business services, so they have largely avoided large-scale criticism. However, the goal should be absolute, rather than relative, gender equity, particularly in industries that cater to women shoppers.
After all, the decisions made at the top directly affect the lives of women—from the ingredients that make up products, to the messages and stories audiences are sold.
Give the people what they want
Consumers have clearly expressed a desire for change. A 2015 study by the Pew Research Center found that 40 percent of women say that having women in leadership positions “would have at least some positive impact on all women’s lives.” Moreover, having more women in power can benefit a company’s bottom line.
Case in point: A study by the Harvard Business Review revealed that going from zero to 30 percent female leadership share is associated with a 15 percent increase in profitability. Satisfying consumers’ needs is something every business should strive for, and in this case, honoring their desires for more female leadership can improve the strength of the business overall. So why not?
In order to accelerate change in this direction and better meet the needs of today’s women, we must establish more ways to put women in charge of creating products and messages that empower them. But how?
How to reach our goals
On an institutional level, beauty, fashion, and media brands should develop hiring practices that prioritize diversity across gender and backgrounds, and get creative about ways to support young women’s professional goals beyond the walls of their offices, such as through volunteering initiatives for their employees. It should be the norm.
And to the young women looking to carve out a space for themselves in these industries? No opportunity is too big or too small to practice establishing yourself as a leader.
You can benefit greatly from seeking a mentoring relationship with another woman in your industry of choice. They can give you valuable insider information about what to expect from the industry culture, and their tips about how they navigated gender-based obstacles can help you confidently overcome similar challenges.
Additionally, you should practice conversational tactics that will help you feel powerful in professional settings. Most women find themselves in at least one situation where someone is talking over them, and it can be difficult to make themselves heard. Practice saying, “Just a minute—I am almost done,” and then carry on with your point. If you still can’t get a word in, an interjection such as, “I could not agree with you more. However, my point is…” is a courteous way to regain your control of the conversation.
Amplify the voices your female coworkers, too! With efforts from brands and individuals alike, we can erode damaging cultural misperceptions of women in leadership and continue drawing attention to areas where women are underrepresented, especially in industries that cater to female consumers.
We cannot rest on the progress that has already been made in recent years—we have an obligation to continue working toward greater female leadership, not least of all in industries aimed at us.
Joy Chen is the Chairman and CEO of H2O+ Beauty, a leading brand of premium, water-based skincare products.
Words: Joy Chen