Women in Business: Leadership at Avon Cosmetics

Executive Summary

The role of women in business is an issue that was highly researched. There are certain shifts in the way businesswomen perceived are perceived, all having a common theme of the difficulty to reach the top of the corporate world. This report focuses on the changes in the role of women in the business world and links them with the accomplishment of Avon Products, Inc, a global leader in beauty products.. The report summarizes the literature on common them associated with the role of women in business and leadership. Additionally, the report also explains the main elements of Avon’s approach to empowering women. The report concludes that Avon’s provided a major contribution to establishing the image of successful women in top managerial positions.


Women are an equal part of the society comprising of a pool of talents, not less important than men in the business world. In that regard, such a position significantly progressed in the last century, the role of women in business is still underestimated in society. Nevertheless, the role women play in society and the business world is constantly improving. Avon Products, a leading global beauty company with $10 billion in annual revenue, provided a major contribution to the improvements of such a role.


The present the report aims to provide an analysis of the changing trends in the position of women in the business role. Additionally, the report will explain the link between such trends and the contribution of Avon Product Inc. is reshaping the image of women as successful business entrepreneurs and a major part of society.


The report focuses on the background of the gendered problem of the lack of women representation in a senior management position. Accordingly, the report will trace the elements of Avon’s strategy in changing the face of such a problem, linking these elements with literature.


The limitations of the report can be seen in the provision of a limited perspective of the changing trend. Such perspective is only focused on Avon, omitting other major contributions by other leading companies in the world. Accordingly, the cosmetics industry can be considered too specific to make generalizations about the role of women in other businesses. Finally, the limitations of the report can be seen in omitting the role of men managers, either in Avon or in the business in general.


Although focusing mainly on the role of women in senior management positions, the report making assumptions regarding self-employed women in general. Additionally, the the report assumes that gradual progression through the career ladder in Avon to reach senior positions is based on their Leadership Program, i.e. starting from a sales representative.



At present, a look over the business situation in the western world will not indicate the existence of a gender problem in leadership. Such problems might be revealed only through management studies, researches, and statistical information. The same statement would not be true decades and centuries ago. The role of women in business can be seen as a notion that was constantly changing along with the development of society. Taking the accomplishments of women in perspective, not only will reveal the struggles of women in the business world but will also demonstrate that there are still challenges existent for women even today. The evolution of the role of women in business can be seen through the example of the United States, in which the boom of women’s participation in business as workers and entrepreneurs occurred in the decades between 1880 and 192. Such boom was linked to the general rise in business due to industrialization and urbanization. At the same time, it can be stated that the perceptions and the expectations of women’s roles were still largely gendered at the time.

The following sixty years the trends were gradually changing, with women status’ shifting toward equalization, where for example, by late 1989 “women-owned half of all American businesses”. In the UK, the number of self-employed women was also growing, although such quantitative indicators do not guide the quality of the business or entrepreneurial activity, with a large part of women in business being motivated by “convenience and working around family commitments” and thus, might work as little as an hour per week. Accordingly, despite such growth in terms of managerial jobs, women’s positions in the labor force remain mainly at lower and middle levels of management. The latter led to questioning the leadership positions of women in the corporate world, researching the barriers that might exist for women’s career advancement. Research of the common perceptions on the reasons of women not reaching the top of the management world revealed that such perceptions are mainly based on assumptions, rather than scholarly research.

Avon Products, Inc, “the world’s leading direct seller of beauty and related products”, was always associated with women in the business world. With its foundation being dated back to 1886 when Avon was known then by the name California Perfume Company (CPC), company was marketing its products through networks of women sales agents. Starting with just 10,000 women working for the company in 1910, this number increased to 150,000 in 1962. Celebrating the company’s 124th anniversary, the company’s products are currently sold by more than 5 million sales representatives worldwide. Not only did the company contribute to redefining the role of women in the workforce, but it also contributed to the creation of an image of women as successful business individuals, challenging the barriers that might exist for women reaching the highest managerial ranks in the corporate world.

Trends in Women Leadership

Women’s leadership in business can be seen as an important phenomenon giving rise to many debates. Investigating the underlying causes of such phenomenon, the role of gender was sufficiently covered in the literature. In terms of sex-role stereotypes, which are specific traits and abilities being located within one gender more likely than in the other, many theories explain the lack of managerial positions due to dominant and aggressive qualities in men more than women. Others attribute such phenomenon through gender stereotyping, where beliefs that a manager should be male might be held even by women themselves. Other common themes occurring in the literature include the glass ceiling, “an invisible barrier to the advancement of women within organizations across countries”, women leadership styles, and others.

Leadership might require a separate analysis in terms of its characteristics and roles in women’s career advancement and success in business. Many assumptions in terms of leadership are overly simplified in the case of women’s management. For example, relating leadership characteristics to gender is misleading, where the characteristics of the leader might depend on the situation, the organizational culture of the company, and the followers. It is generally stated that those abilities might differ, with certain characteristics being simply found in women more likely than men and vice versa. Switching gender roles might not be a suitable option in such a case, where for women adopting masculinity reduce the chances of being viewed as leaders. Although there are no management researches that emphasize the women have different leadership styles, some researchers might provide suggestions on certain styles that might prove successful for women in leading positions.

One suggestion can be seen through the central leadership approach, an approach that emphasizes the role of positive emotions, through having “a well of physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual strength that drives personal achievement and, in turn, inspires others to follow”.

Avon Products and Women

The approaches introduced by Avon provided a lot of opportunities for women, changing many common perceptions of women managers, leadership, and success. One of the elements of such approaches is keeping the sense of the family in the business.

On the one hand, such feeling was established through the company’s operations, enforcing a personal approach in doing business. On the other hand, the model followed by sales representatives does not put a dilemma for women to choose between family and work. The examples of Avon’s success stories include many that emphasized the role of the family in the business. For example, Vondell McKenzie, a senior executive unit leader from Los Banos and a manager of over 3000 representatives, worked with members of her family, making it a family affair.

Another component of Avon’s strategy is the provision of constant support to their top managers, employees, and sales representatives. A survey of CEOs in 1995 by Catalyst indicated that the diversification of the board of any corporate entity is connected to the provision of ongoing support for “non-traditional directors”. It is understood that by non-traditional directors, all the managers, and types falling from the conventions and stereotypes are implied, including women. Avon, in that matter, is known for the constant provision of support to their employees, being a part of the philosophy of their business. The latter can be observed even at small regional levels, where district sales managers “conduct monthly meetings and are readily available to explain new programs or products and make selling suggestions”.

The introduction of the Sales Leadership dimension was another turning point for Avon, allowing women to develop into management roles and earn “six-figure incomes”. Leadership is an essential part of Avon’s strategy, making motivation the driving force for women to become top earners in Avon. According to Andrea Jung, Chairman and CEO of Avon Products, Inc, Avon is them [the representatives]. It is not the company. The upline is their motivation and their inspiration. It is a personal relationship with someone who is a role model.

The basis of such a program is the emphasis on career advancement through the provision of training concepts and programs, earning off the recruits and developmental activity.

Challenging the perceptions of the absence of career opportunities can be seen among the most significant challenges faced by Avon. The latter can be specifically emphasized in cases when those perceptions are based on cultural traditions. The contribution of the Leadership program in erasing such perceptions can be significant where it can be stated that the mechanics of the program allow the gradual introduction of women into the role of managers, progressing through the ranks along with their sales representatives. In that regard, Avon provides an ideal progression in the career ladder for women. Another important factor can be seen through the involvement of Avon in global women’s concerns. Issues of concern, both to the society and women as a part of the society, indicate a personal interest of the company in the well-being of women. Issues such as domestic violence and breast cancer can be related to the company’s motto of being a women’s company, and thus, their goal was in improving the lives of women through dedicating efforts to women’s causes.

Discussion of Findings

The analysis of the accomplishments of Avon along with the current trends in women’s role in business can be seen as a two-fold aspect. On the one hand, Avon can be considered as one of a few separate cases, in which many factors were combined. The factors might include the nature of the business, i.e. the beauty products, which provide personal interest to women as both customers and agents. Such fact might be helpful for women at the start of their careers, where the nature of the product contributes to a smooth transition from a mere interest as a customer into an interest of earning money. The flexibility of the working schedule of direct sales, in general, might be seen as another contributing factor. The latter can be understood specifically in light of the statistics that show that many women, “who think of themselves as self-employed, may only work for very few hours”. Directing the pace of their career is an important element for women, regardless of whether they emphasized career or family. The implemented approach, namely the Leadership Program, takes account of different types of women, ranging from housewives to women striving to hold senior positions in the company. The cases of success in the company only confirm such findings regarding the company’s strategy and business model.

Another factor that should be mentioned separately is the connection between the gender of the majority of employees and the gender of the senior positions in the company. Such a factor is not unambiguous. On the one hand, the factor is confirmed through an industry analysis which findings stated that the cosmetics industry has a greater representation of women corporate directors. On the other hand, cosmetics is only one of two industries, in which such fact is true. Industries in which the majority of employees are women include banks, insurance companies, health care providers, and others, i.e. industries in which customers cannot be differentiated by gender.

Thus, it might be assumed that the gender of consumers might be important in the case of cosmetics for women to hold senior positions, but as a general case, it might require more than such a single factor.

Despite taking the case of Avon as a separate case, it can be stated that being a leader woman in Avon corresponds to the concept of women’s leadership in general on several levels. In terms of leadership, management literature suggests that “the collaborative and information sharing leadership style is found more commonly among women”. The traits of such leadership can be seen as essential in the business processes taking place in Avon, namely those conducted by sales representatives and their units.

Accordingly, Avon empowers such traits and abilities, not only among female employees and sales agents but also in their business model in general, in fields beyond cosmetics. Taking for example Avon’s Research and Development department (R&D), the installation of their new labs and facilities in 2005 considered such aspects as collaboration as well. As stated by Janice Teal, group vice president, and chief scientific officer, “Our whole model is based off a matrix and people sharing and interacting”.

Additionally, the link between leadership in Avon and centered leadership, a model proposed as a suitable women’s success, can be seen through the experience of Avon’s CEO Andrea Jung. Jung suggested the usefulness of positive framing, one of the elements of centered leadership, in the way Jung dealt with the company’s decline in 2005.

Finally, the last point that should be emphasized is that the issue of women’s role is not an issue that can be solved or developed without substantial efforts put into it. Such efforts include the provision of top-down support, encouraging an environment of diversity, and providing opportunities. Having the same qualifications, the same level of intelligence, education, and commitment as men, Avon believed that women can reach the highest positions just as men do. In that regard, Avon’s role can be seen in making a case for such assertion, establishing a relationship that is mutually beneficial for both the company and employees. Additionally, Avon’s efforts can be seen in specifically targeting women as a part of the society through its foundation, and targeting businesswomen as a part of the economy; “[B]usinesses understand that targeting women’s business means recognizing the diverse roles they occupy in the […] economy”. In terms of society, the Avon Foundation for Women, since its establishment in 1955, focused on women’s problems, namely breast cancer and domestic violence. Educating, finding, and raising the awareness of the public, Avon emphasized women as an essential part of the society, the involvement in the life of which provides a case to follow for other companies.


The role of Avon Products cannot be overestimated in the way they promoted women as successful entrepreneurs. The present report analyzed the main elements of the strategy of Avon as well as the company’s main contribution to defining women’s role. The main findings indicate that despite the specificity of the industry in which Avon operates, the basic principles in the way they target women are not uncommon. Focusing on such elements as leadership traits, constant provision of support, training, and education, and others, are elements covered in the literature. Nevertheless, Avon can be appraised for making a business case for diversifying the corporate entity, is committed to the case of women as business individuals, and empowering them to reach the top.

It can be concluded that one of the main elements of success is the objective put by Avon to convince women that there are no obstacles they cannot overcome to become successful. Accordingly, a part of such success is Avon’s unified approach toward both women seeking self-employment to earn their living and women of ambition who want to make a career in business. Although the approach might seem specific to the industry of cosmetics, in which women are the majority of the customer, it can be stated that many of the elements of their strategy can be adopted in other industries as well. In that regard, it can be stated that the main elements that should be borrowed by other companies is commitment. Such commitment includes commitment toward placing women in leadership roles, commitment for diversification, and commitment toward providing constant support.


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BusinessEssay. "Women in Business: Leadership at Avon Cosmetics." November 2, 2022. https://business-essay.com/women-in-business-leadership-at-avon-cosmetics/.