L’Oréal a pretty picture of diversity, training

Head office is ‘United Nations of L’Oréal’

Listening to employees and cultivating a workforce comprising 56 nationalities is key to L’Oréal Canada’s business success and one of the reasons it was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers for 2008, according to the company’s vice-president of HR.

“The origin of our product is innovation and creativity,” said Martial Lalancette.

Creating teams of people from different backgrounds leads to better creativity and innovation because they all bring different perspectives and ideas, he said.

The Canadian arm of the cosmetics giant employs 1,200 people, with 350 employees from around the world working out of the company’s Montreal headquarters.

“Our head office is the United Nations of L’Oréal,” said Lalancette

But diversity at L’Oréal goes beyond country of origin. Several years ago the company did its first employee survey and found employees were concerned about poor communication in the workplace. The executive committee and HR team held several meetings to figure out what was at the root of the problem.

“We realized that the origin of a lot of our communication problems concerned the X and Y and baby boomer generations,” said Lalancette.

To address the issue, the company created an intergenerational training program to help people of different ages communicate with each other. Since the company-wide launch two years ago, the program has become one of L’Oréal’s most popular training offerings, said Lalancette.

“It teaches you not only the difference in generations but also how to communicate and work effectively with them,” said Cammie Guest, cosmetics product manager in Montreal. “It gives you a better respect for the different age groups.”

Listening to employees is an important part of the culture at L’Oréal. Every month the president, Javier San Juan, has a breakfast meeting with about 20 employees from across the company, from different departments, levels and ages. As a result of those meetings, he found out how important environmental issues are to employees and set up internal environmental committees to figure out how to reduce the company’s environmental footprint.

Summer hours — the company’s most popular employee offering, according to Lalancette — came about from listening to employees’ desire for more work-life balance.

“Employees at L’Oréal work very hard. We have to provide them, specifically for the next generation, some flexibility,” said Lalancette.

Five years ago the company began offering employees the chance to take Friday afternoons off between June and September. Two years ago the company extended the program from May to October and this fall it announced the addition of winter hours — employees can leave work at 3 p.m. on Fridays from October through April.

Employees can use the extra time to spend with their families and friends and less time stuck in rush-hour traffic, said Lalancette.

“Specifically with the new generation, the X and the Y generation, their expectation is not necessarily more salary or more benefits, it’s much more about flexibility and the opportunity to learn.”

Training and development is an integral part of life at L’Oréal. Every year about 100 employees attend industry-specific and leadership development training and conferences at L’Oréal’s management development centres in Tokyo, New York and Paris.

“We hire employees for a career, not only for a job. We have to support them to develop their capacity,” said Lalancette.

It’s that kind of support Guest said she appreciates most about working at L’Oréal. When she interviewed for her job, she didn’t have a background in marketing, but HR saw her potential and placed her on the marketing team. Over the years, she has grown in her role thanks to professional development opportunities, including cosmetics training in New York last year and a culture and strategy training program in Paris this month.

“I really feel like my career has been taken seriously here,” said Guest. Being placed in a role that was outside her comfort zone gave her the chance to learn and grow, which she said she wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

“You challenge yourself on aspects that you didn’t think were possible and you gain a whole different outlook on your capabilities,” she said.

Other offerings at L’Oréal that helped it stand out from the competition include a 100-per-cent top-up for 17 weeks of maternity leave and a bright and airy office complete with a coffee bar and bistro with subsidized meals.

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