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LVMH in Pledge to Women

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton signaled its commitment to promoting more women to senior executive positions.

BRUSSELS — LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton on Tuesday signaled its commitment to promoting more women to senior executive positions by signing a voluntary pledge drawn up by European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding.

Under the terms of the “Women on the Board Pledge for Europe,” the luxury group will increase the proportion of women on its corporate boards to 30 percent by 2015 and to 40 percent by 2020.

Reding discussed the initiative at a joint news conference in Brussels with Chantal Gaemperle, LVMH’s executive vice president in charge of human resources.

Reding noted that 60 percent of university graduates in Europe are women, but this proportion was not reflected in the upper echelons of management. European Commission figures show that only 12 percent of board members at Europe’s largest companies are women, and fewer than 3 percent of chief executive officers are female.

“In an aging continent, we will soon be lacking talent, so this reservoir of highly trained women is a godsend,” Reding told WWD in a joint interview with Gaemperle.

The LVMH executive said tracking down top talent was her single biggest concern at a time when the luxury group, whose brands range from fashion labels like Céline and Louis Vuitton to Champagnes and cosmetics, is preparing to step up recruitment across the board.

Cosmetics retailer Sephora, for example, is set to raise the number of its employees to 30,000 from 20,000 due to its rapid expansion in China, while watchmaker Zenith will double its workforce, Gaemperle noted.

At present, women make up 17 percent of LVMH’s board and 30 percent of the executive committees at the group’s brands, said Gaemperle.

Women run eight divisions of the group: Fendi and Pucci Perfumes, Krug, Loewe, Christian Dior Watches, Kenzo Perfumes, Acqua di Parma, Pucci and Givenchy Couture.

LVMH aims to bump up those figures. It has tasked its headhunters with systematically including female candidates and is creating more networking opportunities within the company to make sure qualified female candidates are not overlooked for promotion.

The “Women on the Board Pledge for Europe” dovetails with a French law passed in January that requires large companies to appoint 40 percent of women to their board by 2017.

Reding said European countries are addressing the issue in different ways.

“We are soon going to have an internal market issue because if each state has different rules, what is going to happen to companies that operate in several member states?” she asked.

Nonetheless, she sees EU-wide regulations as a “last resort.” Reding has given companies until March to voluntarily comply with her initiative, and hopes that economic arguments will sway them.

“This question has always been treated from the point of view of equal opportunities for men and women, ignoring the basic arguments of economic good sense,” she said.

In a meeting with business leaders and social partners ahead of the launch of her initiative in March, she put forward studies showing companies reap economic benefits from hiring more women.

“If you exaggerate a little, you could say that if there had been a Lehman Sisters, there would have been no global economic crisis. If you read the studies of Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs, that is their conclusion, because women allow companies to avoid making big mistakes, because they ask more questions and expect answers,” Reding said.