PARIS — Dior celebrated the first in-person edition of its Women@Dior Global Conference on the main stage of UNESCO’s Paris headquarters Wednesday, with the house’s womenswear creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri chairing the jury for its Dream for Change Project.
“Women@Dior is an active network, with the objective to create a community united by sisterhood,” said Emmanuelle Favre, director of human resources at Christian Dior Couture, in opening remarks. “It’s our duty as a company to be a proactive agent of change and make the world more equitable, inclusive and sustainable.”
The mentoring program was launched in 2017, and Dior joined forces with UNESCO’s Global Education Coalition mid-pandemic in 2020 to launch an online learning platform to address school closure gaps and expand the initiative globally.
They’ve now welcomed more than 1,500 participants from 68 countries through the mentoring program, but pandemic travel restrictions meant last year’s launch conference was held virtually.
Chiuri, who has made feminist statements a centerpiece of her work — several attendees were spotted in the T-shirt bearing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s quote: “We should all be feminists,” which she debuted in 2017 — said incorporating such a program was a foundation of the house.
“It’s really about a sisterhood, in a really concrete way. Because what I don’t like is when we don’t make something that is concrete. I think this is the beauty of the group and also the team at Dior, that in all the different parts we are doing our best because it is only step by step we can try to change things,” Chiuri told WWD. “I know how it can be complex in a big company to have a dialogue about this, [and] it’s unusual to receive this kind of support” for company-wide initiatives, she said.
Favre played a key role in developing the program, which aims to support girls in aspects of their life such as self-confidence, sustainability independence and autonomy. “In the end, it’s to help young women to find their own way to build their career with a lot of ambition, to build their self-confidence and to never say, ‘I can’t do that, I’m dependent on a man, my brother, husband or father,” she told WWD. Speaking from the stage, she added: “It’s not a fight against men, it’s a more equal share of responsibility.”
To that end, CEO Pietro Beccari sent a video note reiterating Dior’s dedication to the cause. “I do believe that only with education we will be able to change the world. It’s not just an economical commitment; it’s more importantly a moral commitment.”
The ceremony was particularly poignant in the context of current events. Program participant Zenia Skate, a native of Lithuania and Ukraine, dedicated a moving tribute to the women of Ukraine. Several speakers also reacted to the morning’s news that the Taliban will no longer allow girls to enroll in secondary school or above.
“It sadly reminds us how important it is to stand together,” said Chantal Gaemperle, group executive vice president of human resources at LVMH. “We also see that the progress that has been made is fragile, we cannot sit still. Sitting still is not very much part of LVMH. It’s not our culture, it’s not part of our DNA. We are committed to engaging organizations with a lot of people to reach our objectives.”
Gaemperle noted that the pandemic reinforced gender inequality and injustice, and impacted access to education. “Women paid a heavy price,” she said.
The pandemic put a renewed focus on how gains in education can be reversed quickly. “We must act today. With the pace of progress, we will have to wait until 2050 to have education guaranteed for all young women, and that is not acceptable,” said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO assistant director-general for education. “The positive side is that we have become more aware of the importance of education and keeping schools open.”
Imany took to the stage in conversation with Afghan artist Fatimah Hossaini. The French singer focused on her decade-long commitment to raise awareness about endometriosis, a condition which affects one in 10 women in France with pain so severe it impacts their schooling and work life.
“It’s supposedly ‘rare,’ but impacts many women around the world. But it impacts only women, so it hasn’t really been studied,” she said, noting that menstruation is such a taboo subject that the media tends to ignore discussing the condition. “It’s a societal problem, it’s a problem of the patriarchy, a problem of misogyny.”
However she remains hopeful for the current watershed moment we are in, when the global conversation is really shifting. “Women can finally say what they really think, can finally create. We all have something to say and a door has been opened.”
The jury saw presentations from six finalists for the Dream for Change project, which aims to help young women create impactful, empowering community programs, and selected three: Sérénité, a website and app to pair teen girls in need of mental health support with professionals in France; Talitha Together, an education and support program for pregnant teen girls in South Africa; and All Voices, a Brazilian initiative to outreach to transgender teens in an effort to keep them out of prostitution.
The conference also featured Dior leather goods director Marida Sperandeo, before workshops from executives Tatiana Dupont, LinkedIn head of luxury, and Women in Africa program director Astrid Cottin, on topics such as social media and branding.
Favre told WWD the Women@Dior will continue to expand, as it is now present in South America, sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South East Asia. “We want to continue to build, because what gives a lot of power to the program is that it’s very consistent with the message of Maria Grazia. It’s a great conviction for her, it’s a great conviction for me, it’s very consistent with the history of Dior and what we will be in the future.”
Chiuri said she was inspired by the participants and sees systemic change in the young women surrounding her at Dior. “For me, the young generation is like my mentor. I learn more from them I think. I support them with my experience, because I know very well the system, and they give me back ideas for innovation. I tell them you can very well criticize but if we don’t try to make a step we don’t change anything,” she said. “I understand the evolution of fashion. We are doing big steps for the future, but we have to work a lot and never stop. In another case we have a revolution, [and] a revolution is never good — we have to build, not to destroy.”