Orange and L’Oréal: Some French giants are becoming more female in their management

The French multinational telecommunications corporation Orange is making progress towards its goal to have at least 35% of women on all levels of the organisation by 2015. Also L’Oréal reported at an International conference in Paris in October 2014 that they have almost reached their goal to have 50% of women in management (across all levels). Orange posted a 5% increase in female leaders between 2011 and 2013 alone.

The latest numbers published by Orange’s Diversity Department show that already 36% of the overall workforce of the global technology corporation are women. This number includes a women’s share of 31,67% in management positions. This almost balanced figure creates the impression that the company might have almost reached its objective of 35% female representation at all firm levels. In a February 2014 article of the French Human Ressources magazine Entreprise & Carrière, however, they found a 5% increase in women managers between 2011 and 2013, while only 22% of the 250 firm’s highest positions were held by women. Due to their efforts and success, Orange has been placed first in the French Ministry of Women’s Rights ranking for corporate ‘feminisation’ last year. Numbers published by the company’s Diversity Department show, just like in most companies, differences by countries and business lines. While women are a majority (52%) in support roles such as communication, events or PR, they are still underrepresented in IT (22%) and in the networks domain (13%). Orange has nearly achieved complete equality with 49% female employees in Spain and Romania, whereas in their home country, France, they report 36% of female employees. “This phenomenon is similar for most formerly state-owned companies across Europe as they used to attract – and employ – a big majority of bread-winning family fathers”, Diversity expert Michael Stuber comments the result.
Therefore, Orange and their peers still have some way to go to reach their goals. The standard portfolio for gender diversity at most large companies includes, like at Orange: a mentoring program, where during a one year period, the participating 80 high potential woman get the chance to exchange experiences and to get advice from mentors. These programmes increasingly include reverse mentoring and/or sponsoring elements. Secondly, companies maintain or support women network, like Orange’s ‘Innov’Elles’ with more than 1,350 members. These networks increasingly evolve into gender networks where men get actively involved as well and they provide business platforms and functional, regional, international or cross-company chapters. Thirdly, companies monitor the diversity throughout HR processes aiming at diverse slates. On this, Orange has an institutionalised quota of 35% for managerial talent proposals. Finally, companies increasingly work on improving their corporate cultures in addressing the various unwritten rules and invisible norms that continue to stabilise existing monocultures. “In this areas, business-focused diversity workshops for management teams that address various forms of existing barriers and biases, like unconscious bias, as well, are most effective if they are accompanies with communication, events and other reflection tools”, Diversity guru Michael Stuber reports. At an International ENAR expert event in October in Paris, he said on potential quota for ethnic minority that this tool has created more problems than positive energy in the gender and disability areas in the past. “Strict legislation tends to limit companies’ activities to what is required to be compliant”, he warned. Business-case based voluntary programmes, on the other hand, would spark interest, engagement and ultimately the change needed. “At L’Oréal we are convinced that a diverse workforce at all levels and functions enhances our creativity and innovation to create and offer the best and relevant products to our consumers. To do so, we need to recruit, develop and nurture the best talent”, L’Oréal’s Senior VP Talent Development and Chief Diversity Officer, Jean-Claude Le Grand, stated at ENAR’s Diversity Conference. In practice, business-case oriented Diversity perspectives like this have proven most promising for companies in terms of unravelling the full potential of their diverse workforce.