An Interview with Avon CEO Andrea Jung

Over her decade-long run as CEO of Avon, Andrea Jung has not only turned the once ailing company around by tripling profits, but also employed an unmatched force of women worldwide. She spoke with NEWSWEEK'S Nick Reilly about the role of women in the global recession. Excerpts:

Nearly 82 percent of the jobs lost so far belonged to men while most new jobs went to women. Are women the key to leading us out of the recession?
More and more women clearly are emerging as breadwinners. I think the economic empowerment of women that has been growing over the past decade is at the "inflection point" with this global recession. Women are, we believe, the solution for their families in their ability to go out and increase household income. When a woman earns a dollar, the payback is higher. She'll invest in her children, in their education, health care, and basic needs. The impact of a woman's role in the economy benefits society at large and that has probably never been more important than it is now. So, I'm a firm believer that women can be the key to leading us out of the global recession, yes.

The stereotype paints women as "the shopper," yet often women are overlooked as consumers. Why?
Women are clearly the major consumers in far more than just female categories. It doesn't matter whether it is purchases of cars, cosmetics, or even products for men, female consumption power is the leading consumption power in the world. Any company that overlooks the woman as the decision maker is making a huge mistake.

Why is it important to have more women in higher-level positions at Avon?
I think we have more women in management than any other Fortune 500 company. Almost half: five of our 11 board members are women, six out of my 13 top-level senior leaders are women. We learned it the hard way. In the '70s, women were leaving the home to enter the workforce. At that time, all our management were men, and the business suffered for it. The diversity of perspective between men and women senior leaders makes for a robust discussion and a better answer than were the team all men or all women.

Many women who are currently in midlevel management positions will be promoted to upper-level positions. What impact will this new generation of leaders have on the business world?
There's going to be a sea change, not just in business but in society at large. You're seeing it on the political front too: there is a much more robust pipeline in midlevel and senior management jobs than there was even five years ago. That impact is going to be exponential over the next decade.

Is the issue of women in the workplace still worth discussing then?
The numbers are the numbers, and they say that overall representation of women in leadership continues to lag. If you look at the number of top earners and officer positions, they're still relatively small—something like a single digit in top earners and 16 percent of corporate officers. I think it is very, very much the responsibility of senior leaders, of management, of CEOs, to increase the representation of women and diversity in the workforce.

According to Boston Consulting Group, women represent "the biggest emerging market that we'll see in our lifetime," with a net worth of $5 trillion. What are you doing to tap this market?
Well, it's always been our market so now we are doubling down to tap it. We have 6 million representatives, the lion's share of whom are women. People say to me, "You sell lipstick, you sell skin care," and I always say, "But remember: the first thing we sell is economic opportunity for women." We offer women, particularly in developing markets, the socioeconomic ability to be independent. We extend more credit to women I think than any company in the world; our representatives don't actually pay for their products until they've delivered their first order. So, in essence, we're kind of microlending, offering mini-loans so that they can start their own businesses.

Do you think this statistic implies change in other realms?
I think we already are seeing the same in politics and society as a whole. There's obviously a correlation between an economically empowered woman and the investments she makes. That leads to her social and moral conscience for bettering her community.