#DoingWellByDoingGood: Jean-Claude Le Grand, Chief Diversity Officer of L’Oréal, on integrating diversity and inclusion to lead the world of beauty

Jean-Claude Le Grand, Chief Diversity Officer of L’Oréal

As we near the end of March and Women’s History Month, it’s all too fitting that this week’s interview features a true #HeforShe: Jean-Claude Le Grand. Jean-Claude is a pioneer of fighting for diversity & inclusion in the corporate world. As the SVP of Talent Development and Chief Diversity Officer of L’Oréal, he and his team are working to ensure 50% of the 1,000 key positions around the world at L’Oréal are held by women. Together, they have also professionalized and internationalized diversity and inclusion within the company by working towards the inclusion of people with disabilities, who now make up 1,010 of the global workforce ! This led to their well-deserved 2016 recognition by Thomson Reuters as being one of the 20 most diverse and inclusive companies in the world.

Jean-Claude’s personality and exterior wouldn’t leave me expecting anything less of his accomplishments. He nails every quality you would desire from the HR head of a Fortune 500 company: direct yet affectionate, active yet attentive, and exuberant yet tranquil. He could recite stories from hundreds of his employees and give you details on hundreds more- from the names of your nieces and nephews to the title of your favorite song, he remembers everything!- yet you never lose the sense that he truly cares about each one of these people. The more I get to know him, the more I am assured the feeling is mutual- they care for him just as much. Thank you, Jean-Claude for working for what’s right, not just during this historic month, but throughout the entire year.

JC, as the Director of International HR Development at L’Oréal, you have brought diversity and gender inclusion to the forefront of your hiring practices. You have really helped L’Oréal create an entirely new image for itself! Tell me, what inspired this approach?

You cannot promote diversity and inclusion if the company and top management are not convinced. I have been working at L’Oréal for more than 20 years and have always witnessed this conviction in our CEOs. At L’Oréal, we share the strong belief that diversity, which means a workforce, with different groups of people with varying ages, genders, backgrounds and origins, works and enhances creativity and innovation at all levels.

At the same time having a conviction is worth nothing without actions. My role was to turn our convictions into concrete actions and “walk the talk”. Ten years ago, I created the International Diversity team and became Chief Diversity Officer for the Group. Together with my team we started to analyze issues within the organization and then to implement concrete actions subsequently shared internally and also externally.

Why is diversity such an important element of your business model? Should it be prioritized over innovation, market analysis, product development, etc. as the single most important factor in delivering growth?

As an essential part of our business model, diversity & inclusion are not something “nice to have.” It is necessary for them to be fully integrated into everything we do, as a mindset and a core value. This is why they should not be prioritized over innovation, market analysis, or product development; but rather embedded in our success in every single area.

The best competitive advantage for L’Oréal is our capacity to innovate; It’s our creativity! It is in our roots to challenge and rethink our brands, products and ideas. Of course, this implies being consistently open to different viewpoints. People with different ages, gender, backgrounds, religions, experiences or origins enhance creativity and innovation. We also foster inclusion by creating an equal opportunity environment that empowers everybody to reach their full potential and to be themselves as part of a team.

Secondly, integrating diversity & inclusion at every level allows us to carry out our mission: beauty for all. The business of beauty is by essence linked to diversity. There is an infinite variety of habits, expressions, needs, styles and routines of beauty all over the world. To reach our objective of one billion new consumers in the coming years, we have a strategy of universalization that takes into account each culture of beauty, and offers relevant products that respect these differences. And to be universal and consumer centric, we need to have a deep understanding of these differences.

A workforce that reflects this diversity and is one where everybody finds his or her individual place, helps us to achieve our ambitious mission.

What key changes have you seen in millennials in comparison to previous generations throughout your recruitment process?

The recruitment market today is more competitive than ever before and the decision power lies in the hands of the candidates, especially for the millennials. They are extremely well connected and well informed about their different career opportunities.

We recognize that candidates do not want to hear the classic corporate message anymore. They value transparency and real success stories. They do not only rely on what the recruiter or hiring manager is telling them. Their whole network is part of the process! They get information mainly via social networks: Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn, all platforms where we are very active, and they have to be convinced through openness, transparency and authenticity.

For them, having a position with a real purpose is one of the main decision factors. Work-life balance has also become more and more important. In terms of corporate culture, the millennials are looking for an environment that encourages trust and collaboration, where their contribution is valued and they can develop their full potential.

How should large corporations like L’Oréal be a part of these changes and address their needs?

It all starts with the relationship with candidates. We believe that transparency and open communication are key which is why we are very transparent about our corporate engagement and core values. At the end of 2015, for example, we published our first digital Diversity & Inclusion report which gives detailed information about our engagement and the impact that it has in different countries around the world.

Our Employer Value Proposition (EVP) to “Lead the Change” is based on employees sharing real experiences. We’re providing a realistic picture of what it’s like to work at L’Oréal in the spirit of an open company. We are very active on Glassdoor and LinkedIn, where we have just exceeded 1 million followers. It’s important for us to invite our employees to share and talk about their experiences there.

At L’Oréal, attracting the best talent is at the heart of our HR and business strategy. Naturally, the changes in the recruitment market have led us to adapt our ways of recruiting. Direct sourcing, especially LinkedIn, is the first way of recruiting people. The candidate experience is placed at the heart of the recruitment process and continuously improved. The entire recruitment process has to be quick and efficient and provide the candidate with credible information and career opportunities about the company they will be joining.

You’ve said that your goal is to have 50% of the 1,000 key positions around the world in L’Oréal’s strategic development be held by women. Where are you at now and what is L’Oréal doing to reach this target?

I am happy to announce that we’ve reached 47% according to our latest figures at the beginning of March 2017. We are very proud of this achievement, but at the same time it is important to note that we face a very specific situation at L’Oréal when it comes to gender equality with 69% of our total workforce being female.

We believe that a real 50/50 balance of women and men at every level and every function is key for the company, both for true inclusion and for our capacity to innovate today and tomorrow. To support our ambitious objective, we continuously work on the creation of an ecosystem of favorable conditions for the careers of women and men, to break down barriers and facilitate career development and conciliation with particular attention to pivotal periods of parenthood. Our Share&Care Program sets a global standard on social benefits (including parental leave provisions).

Since 2009, L’Oréal has also worked with independent experts to analyze remuneration between women and men (INED, National Institute of Demographic analysis). These studies show that L’Oréal has embarked on a voluntary approach to reduce the gender pay gap. As an example, in France, at the management level, the gap decreased from 5.9% in 2007 to 3.21% in 2015. According to INED, this difference is not significant so we have extended this study to other European countries.

In addition, L’Oréal is an active member of the IDCN (International Dual Career Network), that facilitates the job search for partners of employees that accept an expatriation mission. Today 42% of our expatriates are female, compared to 34% in 2010.

What are some of the struggles you have faced when incorporating your ideas? Was there push-back among employees/senior level executives resistant to change?

We’ve had to make sure that diversity & inclusion are not exclusively seen as an HR topic, but embraced by everybody in the company. In order to reach this goal and break down barriers that were mainly linked to a lack of information, we launched The Diversity Workshop in 2006- a one-day workshop designed for all employees. To date, more than 25,000 employees have been trained in the Group.

To mobilize people around the subject of disability, since 2008 we have conducted an internal competition known as the “Disability Initiatives Trophies” which rewards concrete actions specifically aimed at including people with disabilities in the workplace. In 2016, action plans concerning the inclusion of employees with disabilities were submitted for 65 Group entities, thus showing their commitment . And for the first time, in 2016, all employees were invited to vote for their favorite country initiative and more than 6,000 of our employees participated!

This clearly shows us that our employees are more and more engaged on topics related to diversity & inclusion and that the barriers and stereotypes they may have had at the beginning are disappearing.

We’re even going one step further to work on unconscious biases that may influence our recruitment and talent related decisions. As a first step, we have started by raising our recruiters’ awareness on this topic.

L’Oréal participates in the EVE Program, urging the need for male and female participation in bringing women change makers to effective leadership roles. What do men gain from being a part of this conversation?

I think that men have shown an increased interest in fostering gender equality for 2 main reasons: the first one is based on reality.

Today’s companies are spearheading the movement for gender equality, far ahead of the political world for example. This, in my opinion, is what favors the commitment of men. The subject is not presented to them as a debate about convictions, but as a matter of quality and performance of their businesses. In other words, understanding gender equality and making advances on the topic are now expected professional skills for men as well as women.

The second reason is about generations: for people in their thirties (our main workforce), equality is not an option. They attended gender mixed schools, they have the same diplomas, their partners have the same level and the same ambitions, and they are competitors in the job market and peers in the workplace. They are not like us, the older generations, blown away by the idea that this is actually progress, they look at it as something natural and obvious. This does not mean that these generations are immune to recreate inequalities, especially if nothing changes in organizations. Young people, men or women, are pushing organizations to change and it is up to us to ensure that gender equality remains, over time, within the movement of transformation that they are asking for.

The strength of EVE, designed by Danone is to be an intercompany project that gathers companies with a shared vision. The fact that EVE continues its internationalization, with the first Edition of EVE Africa scheduled for the end of 2017, is a very good thing.

Outside of your role at L’Oréal, are you involved in any other projects aiming to bring about social change?

Yes, I am. In particular those that aim to preserve the memory of exceptional people through social projects created in their name. For example, what we did with the creation of the “Laetitia Craig Prize”. Laetitia, who died in 2010, was a dear friend, a former IEP student and a fan of Asia. Along with other relatives and members of her family, we wanted to perpetuate the values of generosity and enthusiasm that animated Laetitia, so we created The “Laetitia Craig Prize,” a scholarship granting 5,000 euros in financial support to each of three Sciences Po students for one year in a partner university in Southeast Asia. The students are selected on the basis of their individual financial situation, but also on their capability of demonstrating curiosity, international openness, generosity and enthusiasm, values embodied by Laetitia Craig. 12 scholarships have been awarded to date.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned as a corporate executive?

You should never give up, even when it gets complicated, and stay courageous. This is the most important and the most difficult lesson I’ve learned. You need to find the right balance between being loyal to your company and standing up to your convictions and aligning yourself on everything. L’Oréal is probably one of the companies where this is easier than in any other organization. It is also one of the reasons for my attachment to this company for more than twenty years. L’Oréal is a company where you can defend and promote your convictions. At the same time it is a company that respects the independence of thought, where one can have an impact if you are convincing, at any age and at any level. This may seem obvious but I assure you that it is not that common.

Finally, do you think that by doing good, you’re more successful?

I think that doing good gives us direction and that this is what we need more than anything. In the end, earning money does not have any value in itself. What has animated me throughout my career is my work with people. Having an impact on their professional development and seeing them grow inside the company is the real success for me. In the end, real success is accomplishing something together.