Three ambitious and talented MSc Strategic Marketing students recently attended the highly exclusive Women@Dior event in Paris, France. In tandem with International Women’s Day, the event brought together 100 young female students from universities from all over the world, alongside 100 female mentors who work at Dior.
Charlotte Dewitte, Noor Karim and Aoife Spillane were the MSc Strategic Marketing students who attended from Imperial College Business School. After a rigorous interview at the Dior office in London, these students were selected amongst eight students from London in total, which is a great achievement.
Women@Dior is an initiative launched to celebrate Dior’s first female Creative Director since the brand started in 1947, Maria Grazia Chiuri. The aim of the programme is to empower, inspire and equip the women with the necessary tools to follow their passion and dreams.
In the programme’s second year, the mentors and mentees from both years were brought to Paris for a two-day programme organised around the axels of empowerment, education and elevation.
London to Paris and worldwide
From the moment the students met on the Eurostar to Paris, their Women@Dior journey began. The students were given index cards with a description and fun facts about their mentor. Based on the card they had to find their mentor on the train, which was a fun way to get to know the other mentors and mentees.
The programme commenced by bringing together of all the international mentors and mentees for a welcome breakfast. This featured an informative talk about the history of Dior. The mentors and mentees were split into three groups, immersing them amongst women from different disciplines and areas of work. Charlotte said:
We come from a Business School, but there were people there who studied engineering, mathematics and fashion design. It was interesting to see how they see things differently from us because we were looking at it from a business perspective. It was very inspiring being amongst women who are all very ambitious, all with different career goals and very different backgrounds.
The students said sharing of stories across the globe was one of the most eye-opening and valuable experiences of the programme. For the London-based students, they feel their biggest fight for gender equality is the gender pay gap. However, for some of the mentors and mentees they met from other countries, it is difficult for them to just raise their voice as a woman.
Discovering that they were all connected and united through their common goal of gender equality was an emotional part of their Women@Dior journey. The students were particularly touched by one of the mentors from the Dior boutique in Saudi Arabia who shared her story about fighting for gender equality in the Middle East. Aoife said:
I previously thought that these countries were very different from us. While we do have more rights than they do in terms of wages, in actual fact I realised that these women are very similar to us. They want the same things as us and are trying to fight as much as they can for a country they want to live in.
The art of empowerment: breaking the glass ceiling
For the axel of empowerment, participants met in the boardroom with Dior executives who shared their journey. These discussions were led by the author and director Florence Sandis with the theme of breaking the glass ceiling. One of the prominent speeches was given by the Creative Director herself.
One of the points of discussions in the talks was gender inequality in the retail sector. While roughly three-quarters of the employees in the industry are women, three-quarters of the top management/CEOs are men. The executives shared their learnings and advice for how the future generation of women can break the glass ceiling.
Talks were also given by men who work in the company, including Damien Bertrand, Managing Director in charge of Women’s
Departments. The students found the perspective of the male executives particularly interesting and learnt the importance of men and women working together. Noor said:
Achieving gender equality is about working together, I think that for me was the key learning of the weekend. One of the ladies on the weekend said that behind a successful man there’s a successful woman, but I think it works the other way as well. It’s not just a one-way thing, it goes both ways.
This was also one of Aoife’s main learnings, she said:
For me, I learnt that we need to get men involved in the conversation and to realise that this benefits them as well and is something they should be talking about. What I got from Dior was if everyone does a little more in our daily lives, you can make a difference around you. I think that men need to be on board otherwise we just can’t do it.
The art of education and elevation
The first axel of the programme was education. The mentees had the opportunity to visit two places that are usually off-limits to visitors. First, the Dior Heritage service where the precious archives are kept, and second, the ready-to-wear and haute couture ateliers where the skilled “Petite Mains” work.
At the Dior Heritage service, the students saw the archives and collections of different Dior sketches, including Christian Dior’s first collection from 1946. On their visit to the Haute Couture building, they saw the Dior ateliers at work and saw first-hand how garments are made from start to finish. Aoife said:
It made us feel really special and that’s what resonated through the whole experience. They opened the archives, the atelier, and the Haute Couture which the people working there even said they don’t usually do this. It wasn’t them trying to make us feel that we’re special, they really were making a huge effort.
Attendees learnt the art of elevation through workshops led by the experts from the Dior Academy and the Stimulus law firm. The workshops were delivered by a range of industry experts from artists to poets and more.
One workshop was led by an artist who was creating a piece of art that will be sent to the moon. Everyone on the programme scanned their hand into the art piece which means their hands will be on the moon. The slogan for the rest of the programme followed: nothing is impossible, you can even be on the moon.
Nothing is impossible
Through the three different axels of the event, the students left the programme feeling that nothing is impossible. Women@Dior brought together women from around the world with different life experiences to fight for the same cause. Aoife said:
The support between women was amazing. It was nice to see all of these women getting behind each other and supporting each other. That’s one of the reasons why we’re at this stage in today’s world because women are helping each other more.
The next step to making sure nothing is impossible is through the mentoring programme. The students were paired with a mentor who will guide them throughout the year. All mentors are female Dior employees under 30-years-old and are chosen according to three criteria: talent, ambition and generosity.
The next part of the programme is the mentor taking the mentee to a day at work in their role at Dior. The mentees will also get the opportunity to bring their mentor on campus and show them their life. This highlights the two-way learning objective of the mentoring programme.
Noor has already created a strong relationship with her mentor, Alice Decat, Events and CRM at the Selfridges boutique. She said:
I’m really, really happy with my mentor. We really get along and she’s so nice. She texted me after the event to say I’ve already learnt so much from you. It’s not just one-way, we are both learning from each other.
Charlotte, Noor and Aoife left the Women@Dior event feeling inspired and amazed. They look forward to continuing their journey on the programme over the next year.