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Why Do Men Run the Beauty Industry?

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Why Do Men Run the Beauty Industry?

Jessica Assaf

"We've ceased making progress at the top in any industry anywhere in the world ... In the United States, women have had 14% of the top corporate jobs and 17% of the board seats for 10 years. Ten years of no progress. Ten years of no progress is no progress." 

-Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Meet George, Jean Paul, Alan, Lorenzo, Fabrizio, and John. They are the CEOs of L'Oreal, Revlon, Estée Lauder, OPI Nail Polish, and MAC Cosmetics. Remember their faces. These men essentially run the $50 billion beauty industry. 

I am not pointing this out because I think these men are evil and they are intentionally poisoning us with heavy metals and endocrine disruptors in our makeup. But when I think about the people fighting tirelessly for legislation regulating the chemicals in our consumer products, the global women's collectives producing some of the most nourishing raw ingredients like Shea butter in West Africa, and the mothers who have joined together nationwide to beg for baby products free of Bisphenol A, I see corporate businessmen at the end of the road, inhibiting real progress. Businessmen are trained to minimize costs and maximize profits. It is not a businessman's job to find the safest ingredients possible; the goal of any entity is to make money. And unfortunately, it is impossible to quantify the value of precautionary health. Think about it... In monetary terms, how can we prove that potentially preventing cancer, birth defects, or infertility later in life by creating safe products without legal and widely-used preservatives and emulsifiers is worth more than producing a cheap, shelf-stable product today that lasts for ten years? 

As a current student at Harvard Business School, this is my reality. A few days ago I was telling my classmates about an idea I am working on to support the safest brands on the market and someone said, "Oh Jessica, you really still think people care about the ingredients in their products?" This someone happened to be the typical conservative "finance guy" whose family runs one of the biggest fashion empires in the world. I turned to him and replied, "Actually, yes, most women care about the safety of the products they use every single day, and they should." As frustrated as I was, I realize now that there is no reason why this ultra-privileged young man should care about beauty or women's health. The only problem is that businessmen like him run our beauty industry.

In this case, the word "businessman" is not a general term for all individuals working in business. The underlying issue is that men run most industries in our country, including beauty. According to Catalyst, women currently hold 4.6% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. There are 23 women CEOs out of 500 companies. As a result, men are the stakeholders in making the majority of decisions that directly affect women. And unless these businessman are more passionate about women's health than they are about money, it is hard to imagine why the CEOs of the biggest beauty brands would care about the ingredients in cosmetics they would never use themselves. 

That is why I believe that women should take back the power and rule the beauty world. While this big dream may sound difficult, the process is simple. All we need to do is consider who is running the company we are buying from before we make a purchase. Imagine how drastically the beauty industry would change if we focused all of our buying power exclusively on companies with a clear, conscious mission to provide the safest products possible. We could start a revolution. 

Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, discusses the impact of male-dominated industries on women's destinies. She writes:

"The more women help one another, the more we help ourselves. Acting like a coalition truly does produce results." 

So while the corporate world is intimidating, ultimately we as women are the only ones holding ourselves back from the progress that could be made, from a world where we control what is going into our products and into our bodies, and a consumer market where we buy our beauty products from women who actually understand what it is like to wake up every morning and put on makeup. These are the businesspeople who could actually understand our current daily battle of wanting to look glamorous, but not at the expense of our health. As Sheryl says, 

“If more women are in leadership roles, we’ll stop assuming they shouldn’t be.” 


P.S. This post is dedicated to the unrecognized male beauty leaders who are creating safe, effective products and setting new safety standards for all of us. Men like Joshua Onysko, founder of Pangea Organics, David Bronner, founder of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, Greg Starkman, founder of Innersense, and Olowo-n'djo Tchala, founder of Alaffia. Thank you for your commitment to good business and women's wellbeing.