So, do you think that women really can have it all, and should we want to?
It’s the Sunday morning following the Wella International Trendvision Awards. In a hotel suite that looks as though it were designed either by or for Jay Gatsby, Sylvie Moreau, President of Coty Professional Beauty, and I have been talking about the concept of “leaning in”, the book-turned-movement by TV writer Nell Scovell and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg that seeks to “empower women to achieve their ambitions.”
Our conversation comes after an announced partnership between Coty and Global Citizen—an online community that seeks to bring awareness to ongoing global crises. While the exact initiative is a little fuzzy, it is clear that Coty is looking to bring awareness to some of the same issues being tackled by the Lean In Organization. From some of our past conversations, I know that this is a cause that is close to Mme Moreau’s heart.
The overarching message of the Lean In Movement is that women can, and should be, in positions of power in the workplace, and can do so by embracing challenge and risk. It also encourages women to band together for support, and to champion issues like equal pay, and promoting confidence, and ambition. Lean In also focuses heavily on shifting traditional gender roles and encouraging men to embrace more of a caregiver role in their families, in order to provide their partners with more opportunities for advancement.
In short, do more, be more, fight for…more.
Being a working woman (who also happens to have a family of my own), this idea doesn’t sit quite right with me, so I ask this other working woman (who has a family of her own) if that’s really what we should be fighting for in the first place. Do we really want more work?
“You see, this question is what makes me angry,” says Mme Moreau. “Because it is only ever asked of us. No one ever asks a man if he thinks he can ‘have it all’ or ‘balance work and home.’” She has wriggled out of her former corporate formal posture and is “leaning in,” engaged and fired up.
This is why I love these interviews. If you’ve read my past two conversations with Mme Moreau, you will know that she has recently been named the President of Professional Beauty for Coty—one of the largest beauty corporations in the world. She is also incredibly authentic and unusually candid with her viewpoints. In my mind, there is no one more qualified to speak on this exact issue, and no better champion for this cause in the industry.
“There is a big lie going around; it is that women have a harder time achieving higher positions at work because they have children,” she adds. “This is not true. It is not being a professional and being a mother that is difficult; it is everything household related. This is the ‘invisible work’ that women are responsible for that no one ever talks about.”
She is right, and this is an important issue, not just for working women everywhere, but especially in the beauty industry. As recently as 2016, 91.2% of salon professionals in the United States are women (along with 20.5% in barbershops and 75.4% in nail salons and other personal care services).
As an industry that focuses mainly on women, and is powered mostly by women, the questions of how women can/should navigate the workplace needs addressing.
“Women are less likely to raise their hands, I’ve noticed.” She offers when I ask if she thinks that there is as much of a gender disparity in the beauty industry as there is in others. “They don’t take professional risks as often as men do, and as a result, they are not in the spotlight as often.”
We were talking mostly about platform artists, educators, and other roles, mostly at the corporate level at the time, but the same could be said for women in all kinds of positions. The same could be said for Mme Moreau herself. She has a personal connection to this idea of “keeping her hand down,” which she explains by telling me the story of how she became President of Professional Beauty in the first place, one year ago.
“When the time came for the transition when the previous president was stepping down, I was about to go on holiday. Before I did, he told me, ‘I want you to map out a plan for how this transition will go.’ I spent the next two weeks doing just that. I had no idea who was going to step into the position, so I ran every scenario. I mapped them all out, and never once, never once did I put myself in the position of the president. I don’t know why. I was certainly capable; I had been doing something very close to the job for a long time. But it never once occurred to me that I would be the one taking his place. It wasn’t until I came back, reviewed my very carefully considered plans and said, ‘But it’s you. You are my choice. You are the one who will be doing all of this.’ He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. He knew, and everyone knew, that I was capable before I did.”
This phenomenon is not unique to beauty; it is symptomatic of larger societal issues. Women often do not recognize their own talents before others. Most of the time, we are too busy with other things. Mme Moreau is right to cite the “invisible work” of managing a household as one of the biggest things that hold women back from reaching their full potential. Here’s why:
Often referred to in feminism as “the mental load,” the management of the household does not just consist of the cooking, the cleaning, and the taking care of children. The unseen work that goes into managing these tasks is where most of the work is actually done.
When a woman is feeling overwhelmed, it is common for people to chime in with “Well, you should ask for help!” This does not solve the problem. In order to ask for help, the woman would need to know exactly what needed to be done, why and when in the first place. By the time we get to execution, 75% of the work has already been done. That work is invisible and usually, it falls to women.
There is another side to this same coin when we start digging into emotional labor, yet another job that typically falls to women. This is the listening, the cheering on, the sympathizing and empathizing that forms the emotional support of any type of relationship. Between the “mental load” of strategizing, research, and planning and the emotional labor of being a support system, most women are already working more than the full time before they ever even set foot in their workplace.
Since so much mental and emotional energy is devoted to this unseen work, it leaves less to go around for things like creative projects, personal development, climbing the corporate ladder or taking the risks needed for recognition and advancement. Like a smartphone with too many apps running in the background all at the same time, women’s batteries drain that much faster due to this immense amount of invisible work.
This is where the concept of leaning in gets it right—by promoting the idea that this mental and emotional load should not just be “women’s work.”
“The way that we can solve this is by rebelling quietly. Talking with our husbands and partners—well, first of all choosing the right one!” Mme Moreau then shares an anecdote with me about how her husband handles the ironing in their home because she hates it and is “crap at it.”
She is right, of course. Open communication and support at home is ultimately the best first step that anyone can take, but it is not an endpoint solution. After all, you can ask a man to help with the laundry, but the number of men who are willing to acknowledge that “invisible work” even exists is few and far between.
Moreover, the notion of “invisible work” translates to the workplace as well, where there is more communicating, planning, and research to be done. The difference here is that there are typically support positions and designated responsibilities for each task. Unless you’re an independent or small business owner, in which case, it all once again falls to you.
So where does that leave us with “having it all”? Can we? Do we really want “it all”? After all, it seems like a whole lot of work. And frankly, it seems to me that most women are already doing quite enough work on a daily basis.
And in that inexplicable way that Sylvie Moreau has, she delivers a carefully considered, and very complex answer, that illustrates where all of this really begins
“That depends on what that means to you. What matters is that ‘all’ is what is important to you. There is no one definition of ‘having it all. Women need to look within to understand what they want and what they need and define that for themselves.”
These are big issues, and they are important. And they can’t be solved through a single conversation, no matter how intelligent and accomplished and willing to engage the person that you have it with may be. But perhaps what we can all take away from Sylvie Moreau’s stories and viewpoints is a place to start. Before we can Lean In, maybe we should try Looking In.
In order for women to truly have it all, it’s up to us to decide what that looks like, first. From there it becomes a bit easier to navigate the sometimes overwhelming current that we all swim against because at least now we can see the shore.
Read More: The Woman at the Heart of Wella’s Future
Photo of Sylvie Moreau and the author provided by Coty