Women, Power & the Workplace An Interview with Avon CEO Andrea Jung

Work + Money

Andrea Jung, CEO, Avon

The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything found that women now make up half of the American workforce and are the primary breadwinners in nearly the majority of American families.  The report also found that many businesses are out of touch with the realities of American families and that women are questioning whether professional success is outweighed by the personal costs.
Here, we speak with Avon CEO Andrea Jung about women, power and the workplace.

In light of women’s emerging economic power, are we being given our proper seat at the table?

It is encouraging to see more and more women in the senior ranks, C-Suite, sitting on boards and rising through the ranks because they serve as inspiration and mentors to the next generation.  So we have come a long way,  and I certainly feel good about that. However, we need to acknowledge the fact that in 2008, only 16% of corporate officer positions were held by women. Only 15 of the Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs. The good news is that this is an increase over last year, but the overall number is still extremely low. So are women being given a proper seat at the table? When the numbers are 50/50, I think we can give a positive answer to that question.

At the highest levels of the corporate world, do women bring a unique set of qualities, perspectives and skills to the table?

In general, all diversity around the boardroom table enhances the performance of a company. In terms of women, studies specifically show that the more women a company has in key leadership positions, the better it performs. My personal observation is that women in general have strong listening and relationship skills. As organizations move to a less hierarchical, more matrixed structure, these types of skills become a tremendous asset.

Your company has a strong tradition of commitment to the economic empowerment and advancement of women.  Why is this so important?

Avon was founded in 1886 with one single mission: to offer economic empowerment to women. This was a truly visionary idea, especially considering that women didn't win the right to vote for another 34 years. Supporting and empowering women is at the heart of our business model.

We truly believe that the single most effective way to improve society and change the world is by helping to improve the lives of women everywhere. We know firsthand the powerful impact the opportunity to earn a decent living can make in a woman’s life.  When a woman’s income rises, her access to healthcare improves, as do her educational opportunities.  The lives of her children also get better.  And these benefits flow beyond the family and into the community, building hope and spurring broader social progress.

Are corporations and businesses doing enough to provide the support, through policies such as flexible work hours, childcare and family leave, for their employees?  Should “women’s policies” be redefined as “family policies”?

Many companies have outstanding policies; some need to do more. But policies on their own are not enough. A commitment to advancing women and supporting families needs to be part of a company's culture. We need to do both. And that really comes from having more and more women in management who are modeling behaviors and expectations.

I’m very proud that Avon has more women in management than any other Fortune 500 company.  Five women sit on our Board of Directors and an equal number serve on our senior executive committee. Virtually all our women leaders have childcare and/or eldercare responsibilities – and they actively role model the fact that it is OK to come in to the office late or leave early to handle family responsibilities. It is important to set this tone from the top.

Many women today, when considering the enormous demands of high-powered jobs, are asking themselves whether the toll on one’s personal and family life outweighs the rewards of professional success.  As a woman and a CEO, do you think it’s worth it?

This is the question of work/life balance and it is a constant struggle for professional women.  When I’m asked if women can do it all, I say “yes, but not all on the same day.”   My advice to any woman aspiring to professional success is to find work that you love, for which you have a passion and a sense of purpose. If your work gives you meaning, this has its own inherent rewards. At Avon, we are very proud to have the largest corporate foundation for women, which to date has raised and awarded over $700 million to end breast cancer and domestic violence.  For me, the opportunity to help improve women's lives makes it all worthwhile.

Andrea Jung is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Avon Products, Inc., the leading global beauty company. Prior to her current role, she was President and Chief Operating Officer. Before joining Avon, she was Executive Vice President at Neiman Marcus, where she was responsible for accessories, cosmetics and women's, intimate and children's apparel. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the General Electric Company and Apple and is a member of the New York Presbyterian Hospital Board of Trustees and the Catalyst Board of Directors. In 2009, Ms. Jung ranked #2 on the Financial Times' inaugural list "Top 50 Women in World Business," ranked #5 on Fortune magazine's "50 Most Powerful Women in Business" list, which she has been on since the list's inception, and #25 on the Forbes list of "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women.

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    Posted by avonworks4u, 27 October 2009.

  • Wow! I couldn't of said it bettere myself

    Posted by Suseela, 23 October 2009.

  • as always very inspirational....

    Posted by Sharon J, 23 October 2009.