Cristina Scocchia, CEO L’Oréal Italy, took part in the Women’s Weeks.
Ms. Scocchia, you have certainly broken the glass ceiling – not to mention in a country where it is quite difficult. In your opinion, why are there still so few women at the top, even in advanced countries like Italy, and how can we radically change this? In other words, what will be the game changer?
Having a career is, objectively speaking, still harder for women. Women find themselves having to face gender prejudices as well as managing a more complex daily life. If we look at Italy, for instance, we have the highest percentage in Europe (after Malta) of women who do not access the job market or who give it up. Of course this is because of cultural reasons. But it is also true that the level of services offered is lower in Italy than in other countries. Nursery school places are available only to 6.5% of 0-3 year-olds, against a 33% required by the EU, and even this percentage varies greatly across the nation with decidedly lower percentages in the south of Italy. Moreover, only 33% of children have access to full-time state primary school. Additionally our country is aging and this demographic change will mean facing the challenge of care for the elderly which, given the limited number of available structures, is traditionally left to women. In this context we must act on two levels. Firstly at a cultural level we must ensure that gender prejudices are eliminated by promoting a more equal distribution of responsibilities within the family. Secondly we must contribute to increasing welfare services. Businesses have a fundamental role in this too. On the one hand we must support the concept of merit, because talent is equally distributed between men and women and hence through meritocracy women can flourish and attain top roles in the world of employement. On the other hand we must promote the introduction of organisational solutions that allow for better trade-off between work and other commitments. Smartwork is one of these. In L’Oréal Italia we introduced smartwork in September 2014. Most of our employees can work from home (or from wherever they prefer) for over a month a year. It is a way of facilitating work and family requirements for everyone, women in particular.
The problem of underuse of female talent implies, even before being an ethical problem, an economic problem. We cannot afford to not use half of the world’s available talent. This is something that affects industrialised nations but that is even more important in developing nations. Because of this, L’Oréal has launched projects worldwide to promote access to the job market to women from vulnerable social and personal backgrounds. It’s a project called “Beauty for a better life”. From India to Lebanon, Indonesia to Nigeria, from Maghreb countries to Brazil. Across the globe thousands of women are being given the opportunity to help their communities by accessing the job market in the beauty industry.
You have been invited to speak at The Aspen Forum at Expo on “Women, Science and Sustainable Development”. Could you share your core message with us?
Science and innovation have never been so important for improving the quality of life, but also for promoting economic growth and the progress of humanity. I’m convinced that in the scientific field, just as in others, it is talent that makes the difference and it is therefore inconceivable that we should deprive ourselves of the talent of half of humanity: now, more than ever, science needs women. Particularly in consideration of the fact that we are going through a genuine crisis in the scientific field: by 2020 we will need a further 300,000 researchers at all levels, even in countries with greater scientific resources. And 300,000 is precisely the number of women that could undertake a PHD in scientific research if we were to reach gender equality. The ultimate aim of our actions must therefore be that of motivating, supporting and rewarding women who undertake a scientific career. A socially responsible undertaking such as ours has the duty of being committed to this cause for the benefit of all. In 17 years the “L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science” programme has supported over 200 young female scientists in 115 countries who have contributed in someway to all aspects of scientific research.
WE has created a Women’s Alliance on the theme of empowering women in agriculture and reducing food waste and losses to fight hunger and malnutrition. It is made up of female leaders from various sectors from around the world. Do you think this can bring added value to the fight against hunger?
Unfortunately there are still millions of women worldwide who face a daily fight to feed their children. In rural areas women produce between 60% and 80% of food, but earn only 10% of revenue and own 1% of the land. If women had the same access as men do to resources, world poverty would drop to 17% and we could save 150 million lives (OXFAM data). I am convinced that to win such complex battles it is vital that everyone contributes, women in particular. Our determination, pragmatism and perhaps greater sensitivity towards these issues will undoubtedly help build a better future for the next generations.
You may have heard that the leaders of WE would like make Women for Expo a permanent fixture of all universal expositions. What would you like to see as the legacy of the project?
The WE legacy is important. Indeed this experience serves to pinpoint the guidelines of an overall commitment that can be picked up on in next Universal Expositions. Because the theme of women’s empowerment is itself a universal theme and gender equality is an issue on which much of the future development of our planet depends on. Women’s access to employment, their social safeguarding, equal pay and career opportunities are undoubtedly the basis for sustainable development.