CHPA Chat - Corporate Social Responsibility in the Cosmetics Industry

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Episode Summary

Coming up on CHPA Chat, we're talking about corporate social responsibility, or CSR. And today we're going to be taking an in-depth look at the cosmetics and personal care industry. What is that industry doing to be environmentally sustainable and increase diversity in its companies, customer base, and images of beauty? Stay tuned for a great episode of CHPA Chat!



Episode Transcript

Anita Brikman: Coming up on CHPA Chat, we're talking about business, and business of course is about making money, but it's also about doing the right thing, corporate social responsibility, CSR. And today we're going to be taking a hard look at the cosmetics and personal care industry. What does this industry that is all about making people feel beautiful? What is that industry doing to be environmentally sustainable? And what is it doing to increase diversity in its staff and customer base. Stay tuned for a great episode of CHPA Chat.

Speaker 2: Welcome to CHPA Chat. Conversations in the consumer healthcare industry with Anita Brikman.

Anita Brikman: Hey, everybody. Thanks for joining us. Today we are talking about beauty and specifically, cosmetics and the personal care industry. These products are used by tens of millions of women and men on a regular basis. It's an industry that continues to show steady growth in sales year after year but it is also one that prides itself on its commitment to a diverse consumer base, as well as environmental sustainability. In other words, a commitment to people and the planet as a new video message from the personal care products council, or PCPC, so clearly states. To talk about PCPC's efforts to lead its members in being a force for good, a force for change, is president and CEO, Lezlee Westine and the chair of PCPC's board of directors, Keech Combe Shetty from Combe Incorporated. Ladies, welcome to CHPA Chat.

Keech Combe Shetty: Thank you, Anita. Glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Lezlee Westine: Thank you.

Anita Brikman: So Leslie, I know I have personally seen a lot more advertising these days on TV and on social media that celebrates diverse images of beauty. How has this trend evolved in the beauty industry?

Lezlee Westine: Well, actually even before this current effort around diversity, the beauty and personal care industry has been working toward inclusiveness at the company and brand level. We've been working with our media partners to encourage a narrative about inclusive beauty through earned, paid, and social media. When it comes to products that speak to a diverse consumer base, our members want to and know we need to do much more. So whether it's color cosmetics or body treatments for certain skin types or mentoring small businesses, owned by people of color, our member companies are fully committed to this journey.

Anita Brikman: You can certainly see that out there, as I mentioned on TV in social media, I love some of these ads. And Keech, we've talked about this too, just because I've gotten to know you through CHPA. This idea of celebrating womanhood, whoever we are, whatever we look like, and the beauty that comes from within, do you think we're headed in the right direction with this?

Keech Combe Shetty: I think what's really interesting is health and beauty, it really is anchored in health and the concept of beauty comes from exhibiting health. And so I think really speaking to health, in terms of personal wellbeing and internalizing that, and how that is translated to the outside world within the beauty industry. I think we are heading in the right direction. It's going back to our original roots of really making sure that we're celebrating everyone's different perspectives. Everyone's different backgrounds and making sure that they're celebrated, supported, and feel heard and empowered.

Anita Brikman: And speaking of that, let's talk about Combe, your family's company. You've been a leader in the personal care products industry for decades, literally. So what is happening at Combe Incorporated to encourage staff diversity and to also reach new multicultural audiences? What are the external and internal forces at work and specifically to your company?

Keech Combe Shetty: So Combe is, as you said, my family business, and I'm third-generation leadership. We are on the cusp of our 74th, I believe, anniversary coming up. So it was started by my grandparents, almost 74 years ago. And currently I'm executive chair and my CEO happens to be my husband Akshay. And I think Akshay and I really have a unique perspective on diversity, equity, and inclusion. And I think it's unique within the corporate world because we are a multicultural couple with a multicultural family, and we're leading a family-owned business together. So since Akshay and I took over leadership at Combe over a decade ago now, I think it's safe to say that our company looks and feels like a different place, but we do not have a separate DEI policy. Diversity for us is really embedded in the fabric of our culture. Our policy, frankly, is to hire the best brains and people for the job. And we spend really most of our time digging into the fit, the motivations, the ambitions, and whether Combe would be the right place for a particular person to thrive.

And when we set out to build our senior management team, when we approached the recruiters, we said, "We don't want to just see the typical resumes for the roles. We really want to see a very balanced overview of resumes for these roles." And what we ended up with this underlying philosophy of hiring the best brains is we ended up with a senior management team that's 50% women, 50% male, and about 40% international origin. And I think that diversity of backgrounds and diversity of experiences and perspectives really make for a richer conversation and more robust decision making, which I view as a competitive advantage. And really starting at the leadership level, it really has disseminated through the rest of the organization now. And so now it's a pretty diverse workplace that we've built over the years, where 54% of our employees are female, 30% are people of color, and I can go on and on with stats. But it's something that we're really proud of, but I also think it's something that's important and it's essential and core to who we are and what we do.

Anita Brikman: Keech, it is so important. And thank you for sharing the perspective from the company level. Now let's talk about the industry and the association. Lezlee, how are PCPC and the beauty industry addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Lezlee Westine: So part of our responsibility as a trade association, in my opinion, is to support our members with insights, with tools to help them operate their businesses successfully, especially during changing times like we have right now. We're developing a series of programs to encourage and support DE&I initiatives. We developed a strategic framework with a purpose statement. The purpose statement is to harness the collective impact of the beauty and personal care products industry to be an agent for change toward a more just and equitable society. And from that purpose statement, we developed three strategic objectives, including our short term, where we really looked at and our suppliers, our board, mentorships, our membership, awards, emerging leaders. And then we also developed a medium term objective, which looks at our policies, looks at legislation, for example, advocating for the CROWN Act, stakeholder engagement partnerships.

And we also then have a longer term objective, and that will include conducting some more research in the future. So we're very excited about our path forward. We are also working with internal stakeholders, including our internal DE&I task force, which is led by our employees. And that really looks at how we can do better by diversifying our staff, our membership, our board of directors, suppliers, and operations. So we know we're not perfect and we don't have all the answers, but we are absolutely committed to doing our part to encourage a more inclusive and a more beautiful future.

Anita Brikman: Love that, inclusive and beautiful. What a great way to say that. And I know CHPA, we're on the same kind of a journey with both staff-led initiatives, as well as board-level initiatives to try to really advance inclusion. Keech, let me go back to you for a moment. In an earlier conversation, you and I had, about the impact of family own businesses in general, on shaping personal care and cosmetics over the years. Can you elaborate on that? Cause I found that fascinating.

Keech Combe Shetty: So I'm obviously I come from rose colored glasses in terms of family businesses because I come from one and I've worked in others. And so, but I haven't formally studied this within other industries, but I do find it very interesting that there are so many family influenced businesses within the personal care and the beauty industry. And a couple examples are Estée Lauder, Henkel, Revlon, on the CHPA side, there's Blistex, Taisho, and us, Combe, where we straddle both. And you don't necessarily think of these companies as being family businesses, but there are family influences within these businesses. And I think it brings a very interesting perspective to business. You're not just thinking year over year or quarter over quarter, but really generation to generation. As a family leader, you're constantly asking yourself, is this the business, the impact that we have on our communities on our planet? Is this what we want to leave our children, our nieces, our nephews, our grandchildren?

And that's something that's constantly top of mind. So there's an additional influence, a very personal influence on business that a lot of us have. I started my career at Estée Lauder before working at my family business. So I've really seen firsthand, both sides being the family member, and also being the employee at a family business. And I personally know some of the family members of many of these businesses. They happen to mainly be women. The ones that I know, not all, but mainly. But I know firsthand how seriously they all take this responsibility and the responsibility that they have for future generations, for their families, and really subsequently for the greater community and the planet and that direct association with the future generations. It has an impact for, I think, more long term and meaningful decisions.

Anita Brikman: Wow, couldn't agree more. So now, just like PCPC, CHPA has a diverse membership of big companies, smaller ones, different business models, et cetera. At PCPC, Lezlee, how do industry leaders encourage other members to follow suit in embracing DEI?

Lezlee Westine: So you are right, Anita. We both have very diverse memberships with companies of all sizes. We have about 600 members, small, medium, and large size companies. And each company is at a different place in this journey. Our companies, in particular, I'm really very, very proud. Our larger companies have a strong track record of sharing best practices and are doing that through DE&I as well. And they recognize that the industry must come together around this important topic. So I think it really is about leading by example and providing support to those who need it.

Anita Brikman: Sounds great. So when we started this discussion, I opened this with something from PCPC's video, which I totally fell in love with, doing right by people and the planet. So let's switch to the planet, a very high area of interest these days in corporate social responsibility, the environment, the Earth, how much product packaging contributes to non-recyclable waste, plastics, cetera. So what kind of steps has the cosmetics and personal care industry taken to promote doing right by the environment? Lezlee, let's start with you on that one.

Lezlee Westine: Thank you. Our members are very committed to improving the efficiency of its energy use and transportation and operations shifting toward renewable energy sources and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, more than two thirds of our members actively manage energy use and carbon emissions from their operations. We do recognize that single use plastic packaging is contributing to a global waste challenge. Our companies are taking numerous actions to reduce their use of plastic packaging, use more recycled plastic, and increase the recyclability of the plastic packaging that they use. So we realize and believe that protecting the planet is a responsibility and it's not a choice.

Anita Brikman: So Keech, you, again, straddle both organizations. I've been blessed to work with you as part of the CHPA board of directors. How do we bring that same passion? Clearly, many of our companies do have a passion for environmental sustainability, but how do we help the consumer healthcare products industry do even better? What do you think?

Keech Combe Shetty: I really think that the focus on sustainability and the daily impact that we, as human beings, have, it's not a luxury. It's not something that we should eventually get to. It's really something that needs to start having meaningful inroads now. And I really appreciate that different organizations and people are at different points on this journey, but taking the first two steps is really what's critical. And the important point is to start and to know that there are resources and there are support out there for you. And the beauty of trade associations, no pun intended, is that we have an opportunity to come together really, overall as an industry and have an even greater impact, overall as individual companies, too.

So I think it's starting that conversation, knowing that there are resources out there to support you. You might feel unsure of what the right step is or what the cost implications are going to be. But there are others who have started down this journey and who are more than happy to share their learnings with you, because I think we all appreciate the immediacy and the positive impact that we need to start having now. So it's taking the first steps, frankly.

Anita Brikman: And Lezlee, I love what Keech just said about trade associations, of course, we're biased. We work for them. We think they're pretty cool places to be. But this idea of bringing the community together and offering resources. What has PCPC done as far as resources that help encourage business practices that are environmentally sound?

Lezlee Westine: Well, first of all, I do just have to say how much we really, really enjoy working with CHPA and what a great partnership we have. And so I would be remiss if I didn't, part of this podcast, thank you all, so much for being fantastic partners with us...

Anita Brikman: We're all blushing over here, Lezlee, naturally so.

Lezlee Westine: [crosstalk 00:16:25] a fantastic partnership and we're really grateful for it. So, and as far as your specific question, I'm very proud to say that in this area, we have developed several tools and materials to help our members. So in 2019, we issued the first industry sustainability report and that outlines the industry's goals and progress toward achieving sustainability milestones. And we're updating that report this year. We also, I'm so pleased, created a sustainability handbook. And so this is a practical resource to help guide small and medium sized companies to embrace sustainability. And so many of those just may not have the expertise or resources to get started. And then finally, we've conducted several training webinars on sustainability and developed other resources to support our members' efforts.

Anita Brikman: That's so great. I'm thinking of my daughter right now in the way she shops for cosmetics. And it's very interesting, she definitely follows what influencers do on social media, but she is interested in the diversity that a company brings to the table. What are they doing as far as the environment, the packaging that the product comes in? Keech, do you think this next generation is looking for corporate social responsibility in making their buying choices?

Keech Combe Shetty: Absolutely. Absolutely. And so I think sometimes, you asked earlier how can CHPA influence members to start going down the road of sustainability and even DEI? I really think the consumers are also going to pull them along the journey. This is no longer a luxury even in terms of pricing. I think some people shy away from making the investments or really starting down that path, assuming that there are exponential costs associated with it. Yes, for some areas, there are, but not all and that doesn't mean you don't do some steps. You do what you can when you can. But I do think that the consumers are more and more going to push companies like ours in this direction. And so, if you want to remain relevant to the consumers and keep attracting new younger consumers, these are real paths that you need to start going down.

Anita Brikman: Final question for the both of you, where is the personal care and cosmetics industry going as we look to the future? As corporate citizens, engendering that trust and loyalty, both of you have talked about, from people like me who use the products every day. How do trade associations like ours play a role in shaping that future? And what does that future look like? Lezlee, you want to start us off?

Lezlee Westine: Absolutely. And I think the future is very, very bright and beautiful as I'm sure you can imagine. We follow at PCPC the Edelman Trust Barometer, which I was delighted to see recently showed that the business community was the most trusted out of media, government, NGOs. And I'm pleased that the business community is stepping up and talking about several of the societal issues and challenges that are confronting our country and the world. And I think that's part of the reason why the business community and our industry has been so respected and trusted. And as far as speaking out on specific issues, I was so honored that our brilliant chair, Keech, brought to us a fantastic idea last year, and that was something called beauty counts.

And so with Keech's leadership, the industry gave the day off for employees to either vote or to engage in civic activities. And so I think that's very, very important for the business community to stay engaged. It's what our consumers want. It's what our employees want. And I think also we have a critical role to play in shaping the future by developing these key partnerships, in addition to the NGOs, but with scientists, with retailers and consumers. And we take very, very seriously the trust our consumers put into the products they use and their family use every day. So we're sharing more about what we make and how we make it and who we are and by giving consumers, the media, policymakers and NGOs, more access to information from our companies, we hope everyone can make more informed choices about the best products for them. Because at the end of the day, we want people to choose what they love and love everything about the products they use.

We know that safety is the most important fundamental consideration for taking care of yourself and your family. So thank you for the question. I'm excited about where our industry is going from making safe innovative products to truly creating a more beautiful world together. Thank you so much, Anita.

Anita Brikman: Keech, anything to add to that?

Keech Combe Shetty: Well, first of all, I'm violently nodding my head, which you can't see. I'm in complete agreement with everything Lezlee just said. And I think companies and trade associations, they can seem like these big amorphous organizations, but you have to remember that they're all made up of people. These people who work at these organizations, they are hungry to make an impact and to do the right thing. What's really interesting about trade associations, especially PCPC and CHPA, is that we're all obviously competing with each other, but there's still ways that we can come together to make some real meaningful progress like with DEI and sustainability. And as Lezlee touched on the beauty [inaudible] time to vote, I think was kind of a prime example that there's some bigger issues than competitive advantage or your financial targets or your stock price.

And I've had these conversations with members from both PCPC and CHPA, and I've seen the individual commitment to these issues from members and frankly, I'm confident that we'll have a positive, meaningful impact on the world by coming together. And it doesn't happen overnight, mistakes will be made, missteps will happen. But the commitment is there and the individuals and the collective of individuals, they're going to keep fighting to do the right thing. 

Anita Brikman: Ladies, thank you for joining me for CHPA Chat. Have a happy, healthy and beautiful 2022.

Speaker 2: Thank you for joining us here at CHPA Chat. For more information and to hear our entire catalog of shows, please visit


Keech Combe Shetty Headshot
Executive Chair, Combe Incorporated; Board Chair, Personal Care Products Council
Lezlee Westine Headshot
President & CEO, Personal Care Products Council

The views expressed in this podcast are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

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