NEW YORK — Bernard Arnault may be the most powerful man in fashion, but it’s a woman’s world at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. In fact, women account for nearly three-quarters of the group’s global workforce.
On Monday evening, their importance within the conglomerate moved center stage when the chief executive officers of its U.S. brands and divisions signed the United Nations’ Women’s Empowerment Principles at the Museum of Modern Art. Following a similar event with the Europe-based ceo’s last November, the move signals the company’s focus on gender equality.
“For us, this is just the illustration of a wider objective, which is to have the right enabling culture for talent development within the LVMH group,” said Chantal Gaemperle, LVMH’s group executive vice president, human resources and synergies. “When we speak of talent, the majority are women since they make up 74 percent of the workforce.”
When Gaemperle joined the group in 2007, women accounted for 27 percent of LVMH’s leadership ranks. Since then, the number rose to 37 percent. According to Gaemperle, the goal, endorsed by LVMH ceo Arnault, is to reach 40 percent next year.
The U.S. is at the forefront. In North America, female executives account for half of the LVMH brand presidents, while 45 percent of the management level are women.
Regions such as Japan, where the role of women in culture and society is defined differently from that in Europe or the U.S., for instance, still weigh more heavily toward men in leadership positions, as does the wines and spirits division.
“We launched a number of initiatives that allow us to move from 27 percent to 37 percent in seven years,” Gaemperle said, citing development and training programs such as EllesVMH, the initiative dedicated to the advancement of women to leadership roles.
“We wanted to create the working conditions so that people can grow within our group,” Gaemperle noted. “This is an international event in that it has been accompanied by a number of initiatives like coaching programs for women and EllesVMH. We have 120,000 employees now in 70 brands, and provide these platforms for people to meet and exchange and learn from one another.”
The signing of the Women’s Empowerment Principles is part of this. Monday’s event featured several speakers, including Gaemperle, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, and Dayle Haddon, the model and founder of WomenOne, whose keynote address was introduced by Pamela Baxter, president and ceo of LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics and Christian Dior.
Haddon spoke about her organization, her work with women in Kenya, Jordan and Turkey, and the importance of education and the difference it made on the lives of women and their environment.
Other ceo’s signing the principles were Sebastian Suhl of Marc Jacobs International, Janice Sullivan of Edun, Anastasia Ayala of Nude, Beth Neumann of Starboard, Jean Marc Plisson of Fresh and Charles Gibb of Belvedere. Jean Andre Rougeot, ceo of Benefit, could not attend and signed via a video. Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and ceo of LVMH Fashion Group, and Donna Karan signed on behalf of Donna Karan International [Caroline Brown, DKI’s incoming ceo, starts on Jan. 15].
With so much emphasis on women’s empowerment, Karan felt the need to show some love for the opposite gender. As she put it to the crowd, “Behind every woman is a great man.”