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Improving Gender Equality in the Beauty Industry

Why do men hold the majority of leadership roles in an industry that depends on women?

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This article has been updated to include current information on the makeup of Coty's executive committee.

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Many industries have come under scrutiny for their uneven gender representation in upper management, but the beauty industry has largely been absent from this conversation.

It shouldn't be. While the industry's products and main messaging are principally aimed at female consumers, men occupy a majority of management positions, including at leading brands.

When women don't have a seat at the management table, consumers and companies alike are negatively impacted. A boardroom should reflect its industry's core consumer, because having her experience in mind helps creativity and allows for better decision-making overall. Fortunately, there are a variety of concrete steps we can all take to achieve greater gender equity.

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More than meets the eye

It's no secret that the beauty and cosmetics industry is geared toward female consumers. According to Euromonitor, global per capita spending on grooming products was $6.50 for men in 2015 and $58.50 for women. Despite that fact, most high-level decision makers in the industry are men. Though the beauty industry fares better in comparison to other sectors such as health, banking, technology and energy, beauty brands still have an average of just 29 percent female leadership across boards and executive teams, according to the LedBetter Gender Equality Index.

In fact, the index showed that leading companies such as L Brands (parent of Bath & Body Works and Victoria's Secret) and Coty (parent of brands like Sally Hansen, NYC Color, Marc Jacobs fragrance and more) had no women at all on their executive teams as of June 2016, although Coty has since hired a woman as president of its professional beauty division, who is part of the company's executive committee, according to a company spokesperson.

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Why does it matter?

Increasing the level of female leadership has been shown to improve a company's bottom line: A study by the Harvard Business Review revealed that making the jump from zero to 30 percent female leadership share is associated with a 15 percent increase in profitability. With the act of increasing female leadership so closely related to improved business performance, beauty industry professionals should take note.

Furthermore, greater female leadership is something consumers want. A 2015 study by the Pew Research Center found that 40 percent of women say that having women in leadership positions "would have at least some positive impact on all women's lives." In an industry that caters to women, it's important that we all work harder to give more women a seat at the table -- we can't wait for others to bring about this change for us.

In order to create lasting change in this industry and better meet the needs of today's modern woman, women should be in leadership positions where they can steer brands to develop products and messages that empower them and help them feel good about themselves.

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Don't just wish for change -- be the change

There are myriad ways we can all encourage greater female leadership from the ground up. As a baseline, we should exemplify equality for the sake of our youth: Demonstrating fairness and support for women will reinforce to young people what positive gender dynamics should look like, and will strengthen a foundation for a more equitable future in generations to come.

Even more concretely, consider volunteering with organizations that support young women, helping them build confidence and leadership skills from an early age. At H2O+ Beauty, we've made this a priority on an institutional level. We ensure all our employees are involved in volunteering activities through our Making Waves Initiative, in which we partner with Girls Inc. of Alameda County to help underserved girls realize their potential through academic engagement and collaborative skill-building programs.

Mentoring women who are looking to advance their careers is also a worthy step forward. This can be beneficial for both mentor and mentee, as expanding networks for professional advice can provide strategic connections for future leadership opportunities. And for those of us who already hold leadership positions, make diversity a priority in the hiring process. We saw benefits from rebuilding H2O+ Beauty's leadership team -- it is now 71 percent female and ensures that our brand is truly for women, by women.

It's no secret that we have yet to achieve equal gender representation in the business world. While progress has been made in recent years, it's essential that we continue raising awareness about areas where women are underrepresented, especially in industries that cater to female consumers. Encouraging leadership skills and opportunities for women of all ages will help increase female leadership in this women-focused industry -- the benefits of which will impact all women for the long term.

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