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Investing in ‘Soft’ Power


Avon’s success as an iconic brand rests on women—its consumers and its workforce. A predominant tilt towards woman-centric policies is paying rich dividends.

It is one of the top Direct Sellers and global brands in the world; one of the largest global micro lenders and extends credit to its many sales representatives on the first order, and it has consistently ranked as one of America’s most admired company for more than a decade. All these laurels rest on the power of its more than 6.5 million representatives across the globe. Majority of this workforce is women. In the 21st century workspace when we are still struggling with issues of gender parity, Avon is one company that mastered it as far back as 1886. With more than a century old history of being a company for women, 127 to be exact, Avon has been building a cadre of woman entrepreneurs and an empowered women workforce. How has this been possible?

 

The foundation of Avon’s success lies on the fundamental tenet that “women have a natural ability to network and connect to other women”, as believed its founder David H McConnell. This woman-centric philosophy opened the doors for many women to enter the workforce. It is this legacy that Avon India is taking forward. The company has been making concerted efforts to bring women into management. Romulus Marian Sirbu, Managing Director, Avon India says, “Avon is a corporate leader in the integration of women into executive positions and management. As the market has become more competitive, Avon’s leadership program has focused even more on nurturing the talent and meeting the needs of our women leaders.”

To make women a competitive workforce, the company globally focuses on employee development at both country and global level. “Our employees go through various trainings bases on their development areas. We have an e-learning portal where all the trainings are available,” Sirbu informs. At Avon women are assets and the company does not believe that having a woman-dominated workforce is a business challenge. Sirbu, emphasizing its unique advantage, says that one major reason for Avon’s phenomenal success is the belief that “women are experts when it comes to building everlasting relationships and such relationships with customers are what any brand dreams of”. He explains, adding, “We believe that women have an inherent selling and entrepreneurial capability which they realize once they start setting up their own Avon business.” Additionally, the company invests in personal relationships as Sirbu elaborates, “The “Direct” part of Direct Selling also refers to the personal component of this sales channel. We believe our representatives are building relationships with people and are offering them a high level of service, technically superior products and personal attention.” The company thus invests in regular training interventions that are aimed at building the personal selling skills of women.

A woman workforce though requires a company to be more responsible. Avon realizes the importance of women’s health and safety and has made it of paramount importance. “Recently, we organized 70 self-defense sessions for women in 30 different cities across India,” informs Sirbu. The company educates Avon associates on safe work practices in various ways. The flexible and accommodative policies have given a platform to women to take on bigger challenges and responsibilities. As a result, the company has more women in leadership positions, which only goes on to prove its credentials as “the Company For Women”, as Sirbu says. Avon is truly setting newer benchmarks and best practices in inclusion at the workplace.