PARIS — “Diversity is an element of progress.”

This story first appeared in the May 19, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

So declares François-Henri Pinault, chairman and chief executive officer at PPR, which today will ask shareholders to approve the nomination of three women to its board.

They are Laurence Boone, 40, chief economist at Barclays Capital France; Yseulys Costes, 35, chairman and ceo of advertising, marketing and research firm, and Caroline Puel, 46, chief journalist for Le Point in Northeast Asia.

“[They] will bring us their valuable expertise, experience and qualifications in their respective fields of excellence which are key drivers for PPR: the global economy, e-commerce and extensive knowledge of Asia and particularly of China,” Pinault said.

The executive has made gender equality one of his objectives for the retail-to-luxury conglomerate. Here is how he explains it.

WWD: Why is it important to have female voices on the board at a company like PPR?

François-Henri Pinault:
The three most important criteria in the director selection process, regardless of gender, are a candidate’s qualifications, experience and availability. These are the criteria that were retained for candidates whose expertise were underrepresented at the board. However, it is an undeniable fact that if we select women to fill these director openings, it is because I am convinced that diversity will improve even more the quality of board meeting discussions and its decision-making process.

As a general matter, PPR Group is very much aware of the importance of women in society and the issues they face. This awareness is translated within our group on a daily basis: whether through the PPR Corporate Foundation for Women’s Dignity and Rights, or with our human resources policies that actively promote gender equality in the workplace.

Women are at the helm of a number of our global luxury brands: Valerie Hermann, ceo of YSL; Isabelle Guichot, ceo of Balenciaga, and Frida Giannini, creative director for Gucci. In our retail businesses, Nathalie Balla is ceo of La Redoute.

WWD: How do you account for the fact that women have been so underrepresented on the boards of fashion and retail companies, even though the majority of purchasing decisions are made by women?

F-H.P.: Generally speaking, women have been underrepresented in politics and many sectors of the economy because of the difficulties in making mind-sets evolve. PPR currently has 73,000 employees. Its senior management is comprised of approximately 300 business leaders, of which 30 percent are women. Early this year, we launched an internal strategic review of women and leadership. We will adopt a series of new initiatives to accelerate the development of women leaders. These initiatives provide tools and strategies aimed at building personal confidence, which can then translate into increased ambition and better career paths for women. We want to develop a common corporate culture that promotes diversity in leadership.

WWD: What are your goals in terms of male-female parity?

F-H.P.: “As of Dec. 31, 2009, 56.8 percent of PPR’s employees were women, of which a little more than 50 percent held management positions. These figures represent an increase over previous years. That same year, women represented more than 60 percent of our new recruits.

For a number of years, professional equality between women and men has been an objective for PPR and its brands. To reach our goal, we not only need to adopt a policy that guarantees professional equality as well as equal pay, but also that our policies facilitate a work-life balance. In this regard, PPR recently adopted a parental charter. These new guidelines aim to improve the work-life balance and offer women and men equal career opportunities.

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