Cellist, mother, and Vice President for Public Affairs at L’Oréal, Cynthia Sanfilippo, spoke to us about leadership, work-life balance, her passion for music, and life advice for women! Read more about her experience at L’Oréal and gender equality below!
You have held Government relations positions for US blue chip corporations and have extensive experience in public affairs that has led you to now be in charge of enhancing L’Oréal’s network and Public Affairs capabilities throughout Europe. Could you tell us more about your current position and challenges at L’Oréal?
As the Vice President of Public Affairs Europe, I have two main responsibilities. First, I head L’Oréal’s representation to European Institutions and lead a small team in Brussels, which does public policy work at the European level. I build a network, do monitoring, and represent L’Oréal in trade associations or direct meetings with EU institutions on fields of interest to us.
Second, at the regional level, I oversee a network of directors and people involved with public affairs activities in every market across the European Union. I ensure that public affairs is strategized at the country level: having roadmaps in place, the right tools, setting the direction and vision for the European team, and assisting country managers with their interactions within the public policy world.
I am also a member of the Western European Zone Management Committee at L’Oréal, headed by the executive committee member in charge of the business in Western Europe. I can access the strategy of the organization and input developments in the public policy field into the business, making sure we are equipped for the topics of tomorrow. Because L’Oréal has the ambition to be a beauty tech leader, we have a strong focus on creating an ecosystem that can allow us to continue to grow and provide more personalised beauty to our consumers worldwide.
L’Oréal has the ambition to be a beauty tech leader, providing more personalised beauty to our consumers worldwide.
L’Oréal has long embraced Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), your US branch having even been recognised as the top performing global company on sustainability in 2017. What main initiatives has L’Oréal’s undertaken on CSR, in particular on the environmental aspect?
L’Oréal has a strong corporate social responsibility policy. In 2013, we launched a program called Sharing Beauty with All: a set of strong commitments with four different pillars.
The first pillar on ‘sustainable innovation’ includes measures such as improved environmental and social profile of our products.
The second pillar concerns ‘sustainable production’. To combat our footprint, our 42 plants worldwide will soon reach carbon neutrality. We have dramatically decreased our water consumption in absolute terms, and reduced waste from plants and distribution centres with zero waste to landfills.
We also decoupled our environmental footprint from economic growth because produce more with much less resources.
The third pillar is ‘living sustainably’. We have developed an internal tool that looks at the environmental and social profile of our products to determine if they are good to go on the market.
The final pillar is ‘developing sustainably’, for which we set targets for the work we do with communities. For example, we want to enable more than 100000 people from underprivileged communities to access employment through our programs by 2020. Such programs include solidarity sourcing, vocational training in the beauty sector, and equal opportunities for people with disabilities.
L’Oréal also has a strong program for employees, called Share and Care. Our employees worldwide benefit from health coverage and financial protection in the event of an accident. L’Oréal fully pays every woman for 14 weeks or more while they are on maternity leave. In addition, we have the principle of one training per employee per year!
L’Oréal has also been recognised as one of the leading global companies committed to gender equality in the workplace. What is L’Oréal doing to increase female representation in decision making?
Diversity and inclusion are part of L’Oréal’s DNA. L’Oréal truly believes that gender parity in particular is a performance issue and a key driver for innovation. We are committed to promoting women worldwide every day through equal access to training and promotion. Women represent roughly 69 percent of the global staff within L’Oréal, 33 percent of the executive committee, and 48 percent of the management committee.
Women represent roughly 69 percent of the global staff within L’Oréal, 33 percent of the executive committee, and 48 percent of the management committee.
Is L’Oréal also promoting gender equality in society, and how?
We are promoting gender equality through access to beauty from which a certain notion of well-being is derived. When you go to an interview or want to feel good in general, you put on a little bit of makeup to gain self-confidence and potentially perform well. We primarily work with underprivileged communities where we provide training so they can launch their own business, in addition to training for hairdressers. This September, we received a UN award for helping employ rural Chinese women! Moreover, the brands within L’Oréal have their own causes that vary from fighting illiteracy to fighting violence against women.
You report directly to the Executive leadership of L’Oréal and have held multiple leadership positions. What is your vision of female leadership and secrets to successful leadership?
One of the secrets of successful leadership is finding your own values and being true to yourself. Authenticity is a key value of L’Oréal! Leaders with strong ideas, express their ideas, sincerely. There is no individual success, success is always collective.
Another component of leadership is freedom. When I joined the group, my boss at that time said: “Do what you want, and if you're going too far, we will tell you”. We have an entrepreneurial spirit at the heart of our large organization: 80,000 employees work as if they are running their own company!
People have different views, which can lead to an enriched dialogue, especially from someone of a different background or age. The key is to not take criticism personally, but constructively.
One of the secrets of successful leadership is finding your own values and being true to yourself.
You have a passion for music, and you are a cellist by training. Where does this passion for music stem from?
My passion for music comes from my parents: my father was a musician, and my mother studied music. It was clear that my sister and I had to play music, starting with the piano from age 5. Music was fully integrated into our curriculum, we had 10 hours a week dedicated to music!
Music develops our sensitivity by opening ourselves up to other ideas, being able to see and experience things differently. Music is part of my life: I need it, I enjoy it, and therefore I make time for it. If not daily, then every two days or every weekend. If you prioritise something, then you always have time for it!
How have you kept up with the cello while managing an ambitious career?
I have a fantastic partner who also takes care of our children. In the beginning I felt guilty, but at the end of the day, it is quality over quantity time that my children need. I have moments to myself during which I play music or go to concerts.
Finding the right partner is essential and so is knowing yourself! I had to accept that not everything would be perfect, and to instead do my best according to what makes me feel good, because then it will be reflected in the family and work environment.
Lastly, we like to conclude our interview with a question from the Proust questionnaire: Which talent would you most like to have? Why?
I would like to know myself even better and to have greater confidence in myself. It is a big effort to trust yourself, because to do so you must analyse what you are good at, what you want, and how you can build upon your vulnerabilities. Also, being conscious of who you are as a woman is a strong card to play!