Equality in enterprise: Avon and the future of women in business

Despite being the brainchild of an American travelling salesman in the 19th century, Avon has evolved to become a company run by women, for women: 99% of Avon’s reps globally are female, as are 70% of its Research and Development team. With products available in 100 countries, a global customer base of 300 million and 4 lipsticks being bought every second, the company offers entrepreneurial opportunities for countless women; ensuring that they are nurtured towards financial independence and savviness in business.

Put briefly, Avon survives through the employment of door-to-door salespeople and describes itself as a “network of beauty entrepreneurs”. This business model allows representatives to work on a schedule that suits them: enabling them to learn at their own pace, and ultimately empowering them in being their own boss.

The brand’s ethos is not one confined to the Eurocentric brand of feminism that one might initially expect from such a large-scale Western born brand. On the contrary, a 2012 study found that half of Avon’s total sales were being drawn from the developing world. The study focused on the Avon Ladies of South Africa, discovering that the company was providing a significant number of women with jobs, whilst being aware of the socio-political obstacles including race, region and familial situation that could put certain women at an unequal disadvantage. Avon were cautious not to establish a one-size-fits-all approach, and devised various schemes that were sensitive to the potential economic situations and needs of its new recruits. Separate payment mechanisms were set up through major retailers and the South African office so that women in the more rural areas of the country or with limited access to public transport were still able to reach a bank in order to get payments processed. Where Avon itself could not provide support, the report noted that the community environment that it provides saw cases in which existing agents provided small loans, so that women who could not gather the money for the initial nominal registration fee were given equal opportunity to build a client base.

Avon are conscious of the social responsibility that businesses should be held accountable for, and in 2018 published their ‘stand4her’ report in which they pledge to strive towards putting further efforts towards equality into practice. The Avon Foundation is built for just this. Their initiative thus far have included The Avon Scholarship Programme, which seeks to grant its representatives, their children and their grandchildren access to education; the Avon Promise to Help End Violence Against Women and Girls; and the Avon Breast Cancer Promise, which endeavours to educate about the signs of breast cancer and offer guidance on where to go for care.

In the year that International Women’s Day is saying #EachforEqual, and emphasizing the importance of gender equality to allow for economies and communities to thrive, Avon stands as a model from which other businesses can learn. Its genuine concern for its employees, and their financial independence, has meant that women have been able to escape abusive relationships, build careers – despite not having any formal qualifications – and become part of a supportive, globally recognised community.

Image: Brian Collins via commons.wikimedia.org

 

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