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MECCA Brands CEO Jo Horgan image www.goodgirlsgo.com

MECCA Brands CEO Jo Horgan … When it comes to orchestrating a great place to work, women are punching well above their weight. Photo: Scott Barbour

Jo Horgan turns to a sporting analogy to describe her role as founder and chief executive of cosmetics company MECCA Brands. “I seriously consider myself the slave of everybody else in the organisation,” Horgan says. “And my job? You know in curling [there’s] the person who madly shines the ice, to make sure the puck glides straight through? I literally think my job is to do that all the time.”

As a female chief executive, Horgan is in the small minority – only 5 per cent of companies in the ASX 100 have a female CEO. But when it comes to orchestrating a great place to work, women are punching well above their weight. It seems it pays to have a female boss.

Seven of this year’s top 22 places to work are run by management teams dominated by women executives. That include companies with a female-dominated workforces, such as cosmetics brands Estée Lauder and MECCA, and stationery retail chain kikki.K, but also media companies OMD and Mindshare as well as charity Starlight Children’s Foundation.

Anyone looking for big differences between the management style of men and women could be disappointed: the companies with a higher proportion of female executives did not score consistently better on any one aspect of the Best Places to Work survey.

In Horgan’s case, it was her path as an entrepreneur, rather than her gender, which has defined her management style, she insists.

She founded MECCA in her 20s after working for L’Oréal and has always taken a long-term view of the company. Horgan says there have been times in the history of the business where this has led to counter-intuitive choices.

“In 1999 the dollar really plummeted . . . the knee-jerk reaction was to cut staffing,” Horgan says. “Our model is we invest more in staff than any other retailer, any other cosmetic house, any other concept.

“We invest nearly 3 per cent of our entire turnover just on education, which is unheard of. I said [at the time] I do not care if I do not eat, we will not reduce staffing.”

Gender balance affects company culture

But if gender in the executive ranks makes little difference, gender in the staff ranks has a bigger impact. The survey suggests gender balance affects company culture at a deep level, with men and women perceiving the company differently.

Female employees tended to agree more than men that management hires people who fit in well, management has a clear view of where the organisation is going and how to get there, management would lay people off only as a last resort and that people avoid politics and backstabbing as ways to get things done.

Male employees agree more than females that they receive a fair share of the profits made by the organisation and people are paid fairly for the work they do.

Gender also affects the more superficial side of being a great place to work – the perks of the job. For example, while IT companies are famous for office foosball tables and free beer, Estée Lauder offers free monthly massages.

Magda Lategan, the vice-president of human resources for Australia, New Zealand and South Africa at Estée Lauder, says the company is female-dominated and in Australia it is 87 per cent women, in headquarters as well as on the retail floor.

“We don’t go out looking for females but more females would respond to ads because of what it is,” Lategan says. “We see people as equal. We are more female and so some of our practices are biased towards females but if a male came along and asked for [comparable] things, he would receive it as well.”

For example, Estée Lauder offers six weeks of paid parental leave on top of government legislated leave, and both men and women have taken this up.

Flexible working hours

Lategan says the company does not publish flexible hours but in reality, they exist – for example, one of her team members works from home one day a week because of the cost of childcare.

It is a similar story at stationery chain kikki.K. Chief executive Russell Parker says the company is 85 per cent female, with an average age of 25, but that is not planned.

Kikki.K offers flexible hours for working parents who need to drop off and pick up kids, and allows people to work remotely. He believes both the male and female employees want similar things.

Kikki.K does not have a long list of perks – though the company does offer a paid day of leave on the employee’s birthday – and relies more on intrinsic motivation and the culture set by co-founder Kristina Karlsson.

“They want to do something they’re passionate about, they want to do something fulfilling, they want personal growth, they want to be surrounded by a great team that are equally as passionate about their job, they want to be challenged, and they want to have their contributions recognised fairly,” he says.

“Kikki.K was founded on Kristina’s dream of wanting to do something that made her happy to drive to work on a Monday morning – this is really part of our cultural DNA now.”

An example of that culture in practice is the “Above and Beyond” concept. At the end of each day, the retail stores email a report to the general manager of retail to summarise their day. Part of the report requires them to provide an example of when a team member has gone above and beyond for a customer or a colleague. The best examples are published and shared internally.

Women suffer most when things are lacking

While practices like paid parental leave and flexible working hours may be offered to both men and women, there is ample evidence that women suffer most when these things are lacking.

Retail brands tend to have a young workforce, but gender balance is important at senior management level as well. MECCA has a female chief executive and five out of seven senior manager positions are filled by women. Young women may not have families yet, but Leah Mahon, talent acquisition specialist at MECCA, says they are looking for role models who do.

“If you’re a young woman, it’s really inspiring to see other women achieving, having children and returning to work and having fulfilling careers that are influential and make a real difference to the business,” Mahon says.

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Henry Sapiecha

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