Dior Takes Its Feminist Message to the Classroom With a Women’s Mentorship Program

PARIS — Christian Dior is bringing its feminist message from the catwalk to the boardroom.

For the first time, the French fashion house is hosting 200 young women from all over the world for its Women @ Dior event in Paris, which pairs 100 female employees of the brand under 30 with 100 students from the world’s top business, fashion and engineering schools for a yearlong mentorship.

The participants gathered on Monday for the two-day conference, organized around three areas: education, empowerment and elevation. Activities include visits to the Dior Heritage archives and haute couture ateliers, workshops with experts in luxury and law, and a roundtable with the house’s executives.

In a nod to its famously superstitious founder, Dior invited sculptor Anilore Banon to present her Vitae Project, a sculpture containing a million handprints, made to be sent to the moon. Inspirational speaker Vincent Avanzi was set to headline a conference titled “My Destiny as a Star, the Future Is in Your Hands.”

Launched in 2017, the program has the support of Maria Grazia Chiuri, creative director of womenswear at Dior, who in her first collection for the label sent out T-shirts with the message “We Should All Be Feminists” and who has made female empowerment a central tenet of her design philosophy.

“The Women @ Dior initiative is extraordinary in that it amplifies the message we want to convey through fashion. It makes even those who are not part of the everyday life of the house part of a higher goal that we are firm believers in: changing society for the better,” Chiuri said in a statement.

“I am thrilled to be involved personally with this initiative, which I have supported from the start, because I see it as an opportunity to have contact with a group of young women and to help them discover something fresh that would otherwise be off-limits to them,” added the designer, who was expected to join the group on Tuesday.

The participants, up from 70 last year, include women from France, the United Kingdom, Italy, mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Japan, the United States and Morocco.

They come from prestigious institutions of higher education including HEC Paris, ESSEC, École Polytechnique, Institut Français de la Mode, Polimoda, Bocconi, Central Saint Martins, London College of Fashion, Shanghai Fudan University, Fashion Institute of Technology and The New School’s Parsons School of Design.

The initiative is part of parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s broader commitment to promote gender equality through its EllesVMH program, launched in 2007 at the initiative of Chantal Gaemperle, group executive vice president of human resources and synergies.

The conglomerate, which owns brands including Louis Vuitton, Moët & Chandon, Guerlain and Sephora, employs 145,000 people, 73 percent of whom are women.

“Since we started putting the accent on the need to increase women’s opportunities, and thereby their access to key positions within our group, through our efforts and perseverance, we have gone from 23 percent of women in top management positions to 40 percent today,” Gaemperle told WWD.

The group aims to raise this ratio to 50 percent by 2020. “We measure it every year, and if we don’t get there [by the official deadline,] we will eventually. It might be in 2021, and one day, perhaps we will reach 73 percent,” said Gaemperle.

To that end, the group gathered representatives of 28 houses near Venice, Italy, last week for the latest edition of its DARE program, which stands for Disrupt, Act, Risk to be an Entrepreneur. Dubbed DARE EllesVMH, it aimed to generate innovative ideas on how to achieve the gender equality goal.

The final ceremony, on International Women’s Day last Thursday, culminated with the announcement of the three winning teams that received awards for their proposals: one dealing with evaluation of performance, another with eliminating gender bias and a third one with a digital application for mentorship.

Also last week, LVMH said it was joining the French task force on gender equality established by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. French President Emmanuel Macron said in January that France would be the first European country to take part in the initiative.

“It’s clear that, yes, there are still obstacles, there is still inequality, and therefore there is still a need for companies and governments to continue to commit [to the goal of gender equality in the workplace,]” Gaemperle said.

“I’m not a blind optimist. The more you advance in your career, and especially within the hierarchy, the more you realize that there is discrimination, but it’s very implicit, so it’s very hard to quantify. There is the question of ambition, of daring to express yourself, of sexist remarks, of unconscious bias,” she added.

Of the group’s 33,000 hires last year, 76 percent were made internally, drawing on a large pool of female talent. For external hires, LVMH requires headhunters to submit at least one female candidate. It also conducts annual surveys on salaries to compare them internally and against competitors’.

Gaemperle believes mentorship programs foster curiosity and generosity among the group’s employees. “We are fortunate enough to be in a privileged sector, so I think that being conscious of the challenges and difficulties that other people may face is part of the development of a more humane, more balanced leadership,” she said.

“My next step is to develop a culture of diversity that goes beyond the issue of gender and addresses different sexual orientations and nationalities. If you look at the LVMH universe, our customers are also from China, Latin America, the Middle East and so forth.

“We need to have top managers who represent these types of customers, who can understand their cultures, and therefore I think that diversity within our teams is unquestionably a performance factor,” Gaemperle concluded.

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