"I joined L’Oreal 19 years ago, and I’ve been here ever since because I love it,” enthuses Isabelle Minneci, HR director for the L’Oreal UK & Ireland business. “My first mission, aged 23, was to develop the diversity and inclusion strategy for France. I was given a blank sheet of paper and told to get on with it,” she laughs.
Minneci has changed roles nine times since being with L’Oreal – having started as a graduate in her native country of France. “Each time I’ve moved roles, it’s been the right time. It was usually a combination of being offered the next opportunity but at the same time triggering it myself,” she recalls.
This fierce determination has characterised Minneci’s career to date. “I encourage people to be curious, look outside, find new trends and expose themselves to different insights,” she says.
This is the mindset she encourages among her UK and Irish employee population of 4,438 when considering international career mobility.
Front of mind for L’Oreal right now is embracing what it terms the ‘universalisation’ strategy – to help the organisation achieve its mission to “meet the diverse beauty needs and desires of consumers across the world”.
L’Oreal has evolved in size, turnover and international presence during Minneci’s tenure, with the group now comprising 78,600 employees in 130 countries across five continents, a portfolio of 32 international brands, and global sales of €22.53 billion in 2014.
People, Minneci says, are central to this strategy’s success. “Employees who understand the diverse beauty needs of our customers strengthen our business as they develop the most relevant products and campaigns for each market.
“People who have been exposed to international experience, either at home or abroad, are much more open to change, able to deal with complexity and think differently,” explains Minneci. “They can also work with more diverse teams.Cultural differences can trigger many different ways of working, so being able to manage that is an art."
The value of global careers to the UK
In 2015, L’Oreal commissioned its report The Value of Global Careers to the UK, which drew on responses to a survey of 100 business decision makers and 200 employees from large organisations (250+ employees) and examined how global careers affect employees and benefit the UK economy.
The study found that more than half (55%) of employers believe employees become more engaged in their role as a result of taking up international career opportunities, while 53% said employees are more successful in bringing in new business opportunities. Some nine in 10 employers said employees’ international outlook, skills and experiences were key to improving their bottom line.
This chimes with L’Oreal UK’s own finding that, over the past 10 years, managers who have worked in two markets are almost 20% more likely to stay with the company than those with no international experience – a figure rising to 25% when employees are given a chance to work in three or more international markets.
For Minneci, giving people the opportunity to shape their own career management is a crucial part of HR’s role. “It’s often seen as a black box so we [HR] are trying to open it and make it transparent. We’re very curious about finding out what employees want to do and we will do our best to try and respond to that,” she pledges.
At their end of year review, L’Oreal employees are asked whether they would be open to an international move. “Career months” are held, during which employees who are already working in international roles share their experiences.
Minneci estimates that L’Oreal currently has approximately 1,000 expats in the group internationally, though she is keen to point out that there are as many international assignments available as the group has suitable candidates.
The growing appeal of emerging markets
While most of the organisation’s international community is based in its Paris headquarters, over the past five years, L’Oreal has forged a presence in Jeddah, Nairobi and Lagos and expanded its footprint in Brazil, India, Indonesia and Egypt, either by opening new laboratories, research and innovation hubs or distribution centres.
While other businesses may struggle to position emerging markets so that they appeal to talent, Minneci has observed a shift in appetite among L’Oreal employees.
“Because we’re such an entrepreneurial culture, emerging markets are the best opportunities for our talent to have true adventures, so they are hugely attractive to our workforce,” she explains.
And she points out that a global career doesn’t just mean going to work internationally. “You can experience a global career working on an international mission in your home country.”
Women driving international careers
L’Oreal’s commissioned report found that female employees aged 25-34 were more likely to drive demand for global careers. Some 57% of female respondents in this age bracket said they would consider taking up a global career opportunity in the future, compared with 29% of men. Interestingly, this trend is reversed in the next age bracket (35-44) with 34% of men and just 16% of women saying they would consider a global career opportunity in the future.
“We don’t see that drop,” says Minneci. “We have roughly the same amount of men and women moving abroad, with lots of women over 35 driving international careers and their partners following.”
L’Oreal has an inter-company network which supports the spouse or partner of the employee to find a local job and helps with cultural understanding, schooling and relocation. “We want to ensure that whatever stage of family life you are at, a move is manageable,” says Minneci.
Creating a sense of purpose through beauty
The need for L’Oreal to “stay current”, demonstrate its responsibility as an employer and drive a true sense of purpose, will be a major element in helping to ensure the beauty giant is an employer of choice for future talent, says Minneci.
“We believe beauty has a purpose and you can enhance many things through it – like self-esteem and confidence,” she says. “We want to leverage L’Oreal’s position within communities and leverage the skills of these communities to help people get their first foot on the social ladder. Employee protection is in our DNA.”
Over the past three years, the group has been working to implement a sound foundation of global social protection in all the countries where it operates, to create “an environment in which everyone can thrive”. The programme – ‘Share & Care’– includes the implementation of benefits, from maternity leave to healthcare. In Malaysia and Dubai, for example, maternity leave has doubled; in Bulgaria, Croatia, Ukraine and Nigeria, all employees now have insurance guaranteeing payment of a two-year gross salary in the event of death or disability; and in the UK, a ‘Work Smart’ programme enables everyone to work when and where they want to, giving them the flexibility to manage their work-life balance.
“Making these things work for these countries gives L’Oreal a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining new hires in these areas,” she adds.
Unwavering entrepreneurship and passion
While Minneci admits that L’Oreal is a “very different” organisation from the one she joined in 1996, she believes the “unwavering entrepreneurship and passion for beauty” that attracted her still exemplifies the culture today.
“We have so many passionate people, I feel it every day – developing people’s personal stories and journeys really excites me,” she attests.
She is clear that being close to the business is paramount for any HR professional, and is excited about the function’s ability to support business growth. “I make it my business to understand what is driving growth and how I can contribute to that,” she explains.
Ultimately, her personal philosophy is to “remember that nothing is impossible. Sometimes we create a barrier and don’t dare, but I always think about where I can make a difference, then try to push boundaries and make it happen,” she says.