Sephora’s Connection to Women in STEM

By MAYA KOTWAL

The Wall Street Journal published an article in the fall about an interesting phenomenon happening in Silicon Valley — part of the San Francisco Bay Area that is as well known for being home to tech giants such as Google and Facebook. Unfortunately, it is also well known for the lack of women represented in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs in those companies. That’s not to say specifically the companies in Silicon Valley are doing a poor job of employing women in those jobs, it’s an issue throughout the workforce: according to the US Department of Commerce, women held 47% of all jobs in the US in 2015, but only 24% of STEM jobs. 

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That said, there is one company in that appears to be excelling in recruiting women for STEM jobs: Sephora, where 62% of the technology workers are women. This stands in stark contrast to other companies in Silicon Valley, where women hold, “23% of technological roles at the 75 top Silicon Valley companies… [due to] inhospitable work cultures, isolation, a “firefighting” work style, long hours and a lack of advancement.”

Sephora attributes its ability to have a mostly women-driven 350 person digital and engineering staff, headed up a digital executive leadership team that is more than 80% women-led, to the fact that they recruit based on a candidate’s potential rather than specific skills.

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Like many tech companies, Sephora encourages its employees to take risks without fear of failing, but I thought it was interesting to hear employees speak about the ways in which Sephora creates an environment that fosters the talent of the women in the company.  Jenna Melendez said that meetings were “free flowing” and everyone felt comfortable speaking. Terre Layton, an engineer who has spent more than 20 years working in Silicon Valley, said she felt empowered seeing so many women leaders after spending so long in male-dominated spaces, and that bosses always asked for team members’ opinions in meetings. This commitment to promoting women appears to filter down from Sephora’s owner, French luxury conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, which has a global workforce of 134,500 that is nearly three-quarters female, and women hold 38% of the executive leadership roles, which they have committed to raising to at least 50% by 2020.

Seeing women in STEM driven roles at companies like Sephora may even help more high school girls to be interested in pursuing a degree in one of those related fields, as a study by the Girl Scouts of America in found that one of the reasons teenage girls feel unwelcome in STEM classrooms is the lack of representation of role models in related careers.

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