Revelling in the role

Changing foundations, Sara Ravella has swapped construction for cosmetics

The construction and cosmetic industries seem like two completely different worlds but Sara Ravella finds herself a good fit with both. In 2010, she joined L'Oreal Group's team of top executives as vice-president of communications, sustainability and public affairs, and that was joyfully followed by pregnancy.

L’Oreal Group executive vice-president for communications, sustainability and public affairs Sara Ravella is balancing motherhood and a high-flying career.

"Construction is a masculine industry, and moving to cosmetics, a feminine industry, may be related to me having a baby, and moreover, a baby girl," said Ravella, whose daughter is now 18 months old.

The Italian executive can efficiently juggle both motherhood and a career, the latter requiring her to go on business trips around the world. Last month, she was in Thailand to launch the Beautiful Tomorrows 2013 programme, which provides hairdressing training to underprivileged people.

Founded in 1909, French cosmetics giant L'Oreal has become a global leader in the beauty industry. Business strategies are approved by its board of management, comprised of a dozen men and three female executives.

Ravella also sees a beautiful tomorrow for women in L'Oreal Group as more climb the corporate ladder. And in the future, it may be a question of how to bring back more men to the boardroom.

Is it harder for a woman to make herself heard in the boardroom?

Being a woman is neither a barrier nor an advantage. It's not really a matter of gender but the topic and the way you bring it to the table.

Sustainability programmes are important agendas, and we consider all aspects of the value chain, from sustainable innovation and consumption to growth and development.

One example of our sustainable initiatives is the sourcing of ingredients for "green chemistry" by which we acquire molecules from nature, such as Pro-Xylane, while preserving biodiversity.

Sustainable consumption is about providing product information to consumers in a way that helps preserve the environment, whereas sustainable development challenges us to take responsibility in preserving the planet for the next generation.

Our chairman Jean-Paul Agon often says when you're a leader in the beauty industry, you owe the world beauty, and we have to bring beauty to this world.

How did you perceive the beauty industry before joining L'Oreal?

As an outsider, you might think of this industry as superficial, and I didn't want to get involved in something like that. Actually, I couldn't imagine myself switching from construction to cosmetics, but both industries are related to Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Once you have the basic needs then you want to feel good, which is about taking care of yourself _ your skin, your hair. At L'Oreal, we believe beauty is a language that expresses one's feelings and it has the power to change people's lives.

Do you find yourself a good fit in the French company?

Beforehand, I was also with another French company. The corporate cultures are very similar, as well as the vision in humanistic management that places importance in people, who are paramount to the success of the company.

What I like about the L'Oreal Group is that we're like a family, and when you're a part of the family, they take good care of you.

The culture is oral rather than process-driven, and Latin people like me are less process-driven and we like to talk about problems and figure out how to fix them together.

Does that make you the right woman for a job in communications?

With an education background in economics, I started working in finance before moving to human resources and then communications. They say that marketing is king and communications is queen.

My job involves internal communication to motivate employees and make them feel good about the company. External communications include promoting L'Oreal CSR programmes, such as Beauty for a Better Life [called Beautiful Tomorrows in Thailand].

Beauty is a powerful tool of inclusion which allows many opportunities for everyone. Beauty is a projection of ourselves, our well-being, and it empowers us with confidence to create social links. At the same time, it creates several professions for many people around the world.

How does L'Oreal help build a beautiful tomorrow?

In its third year, Beautiful Tomorrows is a professional hairdressing skills development programme for underprivileged people with support from the L'Oreal Foundation and the Office of the Vocational Education Commission, Ministry of Education.

Demonstrating how beauty can change people's lives, it aims to help the vulnerable rebuild their lives, generate employment and make the hairdressing profession more known to people.

This is a little drop, but many drops of water make an ocean.

We wanted to start doing something on a small scale in order to ensure we deliver excellence.

In the future, we hope to expand this project and reach out to even more people.

Another commitment for Thailand is the For Women in Science programme. These two programmes are examples of how L'Oreal wants to contribute to communities and countries where we operate, by not only offering quality products and employing people, but also giving back.

How has your beauty routine changed since joining the cosmetics giant?

I have become more addicted to cosmetics and surrounded by so many beauty products, I feel like a little kid in a candy shop.As a part of the job, I have become a tester in trying new products, and at home I'm using more skincare products than I used before joining L'Oreal.

Asian women are known to religiously follow their beauty routines, which involves many skincare products. And I have learned of beauty diversities and how women in each country have different beauty perceptions, values and cultures.

L'Oreal is sensitive to these cultural differences and as a result we have 27 diverse brands, from Lancome and Kerastase to Maybelline and Vichy, to address different needs and bring beauty for all.

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