Olay has a new chef at her helm, and she’s on a mission to see the skincare brand in everyone’s medicine cabinet.
Stephanie Headley, senior vice president of P&G and franchise manager of Olay and North America Skincare brands (which also puts DermaGeek and Native under her watch), may have been recently appointed, but she’s a veteran of the organization. . She has spent over 20 years driving a more inclusive definition of beauty for business and industry at large. Now she’s taking the helm as the first black woman and first woman of color in the role.
Having watched her grandmother apply Olay Pink Beauty Fluid as a child, Headley is channeling both her near and distant past to move one of the world’s leading skincare brands into a new future. Here, Beauty Inc sits down with the executive to find out what drives her, how inclusive beauty manifests under her watch, and her thoughts on the state of skincare.
How are things looking from your current perch in this new role at P&G?
Stephanie Headley: Well, I think he’s capable of doing things on a much larger scale. When I think of Olay’s purpose, we want to inspire every woman to have the confidence to face anything. I really take that to heart. I believe in this goal and try to bring it to life in everything we do when she selects her skincare, so that she is more confident to face her day and truly confident to face her life.
We’ve already done a lot of work to ensure that each jar of the jar bar, like Vitamin C, which is our latest, contains the best ingredients. We know that women are looking for the ingredients that are right for them and we want to bring them the best ingredients with great quality, perfect craftsmanship and great value, so I really look forward to continuing to do so.
We also know that it is extremely important for consumers to see themselves in the brand and that the brand reflects their values. So I’m excited to continue telling stories that reflect the consumers we want to serve, the women in front of and behind the camera. We are partners of the Queen Collective [a short film mentoring and development program]release the auction [a nonprofit initiative advocating on behalf of women directors for equal opportunities] and other organizations to make sure that we include female directors, that we put women of color in front of and behind the camera, so I’m really excited about these opportunities.
We [also] want to double the number of women of color pursuing STEM studies [science, technology, engineering and math] the fields. Science matters and there is a lot of science in every one of these jars. We want to continue to give more women the opportunity to pursue STEM careers and close this STEM gap by 2030. [The gap is that women hold only 24 percent of these roles, according to Olay.] So from this position and this role, I’m excited about the opportunity to make a lot of progress in all of these areas.
What is your assessment of the skincare category as a whole and Olay’s place in it?
SH: It’s always an exciting time in skincare and what a unique opportunity we face right now. We are coming out of the pandemic. We have actually taken on new habits of skincare as self-care. We’ve changed the way we shop for skincare. We know Gen Z consumers have an insatiable appetite for how products work, what’s right for their skin, and for science. All of this makes Olay the ideal brand of choice.
You always refer to your consumer with their pronouns — how does Olay embrace inclusivity in this area?
SH: What we discovered is that about 10% of our consumers are male and not female, or non-binary. So we want everyone to feel like they can face anything without fear, but this brand’s legacy has been to serve women and we want to keep pushing that narrative forward, to be inclusive.
We have also made inclusion in other ways, for example, with our new easy to open lid for the disabled which includes Braille. Our brands continue to evolve to reflect the values and consumers we want to serve.
Black women have been excluded from skincare conversations and product targeting for so long – how do you ensure this doesn’t continue to happen?
SH: For me, and for this organization, inclusion and belonging is a core value, it’s at the heart of who we are and it’s how we do our job. Under the innovation agenda, I talk a lot about vitamin C because it was designed for women of color and was designed by Dr. Markaisa Black, who is a woman of color who is a scientist.
This is where not only do we have our commitments on the outside, which is great, but it’s also important to point out that we live this way, we lead by example when we have women like Dr Black who formulate products for women of color. We know that women of color, women who did not fit the prototypical standard of beauty, have been shut out of the beauty industry and I personally see Olay as having a role to play in leading this positive change in the world. industry to be more inclusive, to represent women of color as creators, as scientists, as innovators, as leaders, as brand builders. Olay has done a tremendous job – we know there’s still a lot to do, but it’s an important role we play for the beauty industry.
In September we did a program with Dr. Joy Buolamwini called “Decode the Bias” because we found that while women of color make up 40% of the population, they only make up 20% of the images we see because algorithms have coded into the bias that perpetuates a very narrow standard of beauty. So with her, we partnered up to send 1,200 girls to code camp so we could code inclusive.
Where does Olay have the most growth opportunities?
SH: We have a tremendous opportunity for growth. We have high quality formulas perfectly designed to work with women’s skin and we want to serve all consumers where and how they want to buy. This positions Olay perfectly to continue to serve more and give them the confidence to take on anything. During the pandemic, we’ve seen consumers move online, and we’re now better able to provide consumers with the perfect regimen just for them on Olay.com when they take the Skin Advisor quiz. So there’s huge growth ahead for the company in response to how consumers tell us they want to shop and what works for them.
What are your top three strategic priorities for the year ahead and what would make you feel most accomplished in your new role?
SH: The work and strategic choices led by Chris Heiert [who’s now heading P&G’s new specialty beauty division] over the past five years have really grown Olay and created a perfect foundation for me.
My plan is to continue to serve more consumers, building on this fantastic foundation and I want to inspire more women to not be afraid to face anything, I want to tell more compelling stories, create more powerful products with ingredients that women can really trust their skin.
I think what feels most accomplished is that every young woman chooses Olay as their go-to brand as they build their skincare routine so that their confidence really emanates.… That’s the change that I want to do. Whether it’s a young woman choosing to be a scientist or an engineer or a woman taking her first job, I want to make sure our products give women the confidence they can show how they themselves.
Among other accolades, you’ve been recognized as one of Ebony’s Power 100, which only goes to those who are truly cutting edge in their field. What does it do?
SH: Oh, that was an incredible recognition. I grew up with Ebony magazines in my home and reading those stories and it really expanded my world of what was possible for me. I continued to have this passion to go see the world, to explore the world, and to continue to expand on what is possible for me. So to be recognized by the institution of Ebony is just amazing and it’s work I’m passionate about, it’s work I’m excited and proud to do and I take seriously my responsibility to keep pushing forward the cause, then those who come behind me can go further and faster than me.
Speaking of seeing the world, you are a traveler at heart. What is your favorite place? And where is next on the list?
SH: Rome is the preferred location. So I can’t wait to go back to Italy and go back to Rome. I would also like to spend some time in Greece — that’s next on the list — and maybe in Portugal as well.
What don’t most people know about you?
SH: Most people don’t know that I started my professional career as a math teacher. I was a math major, got certified to teach, went to undergrad at the University of Richmond, and had – and still have – an insatiable passion for helping people learn. Didn’t recognize it at the time or just didn’t notice I was a woman of color pursuing STEM studies and very few of my teachers were women – I can only think of one alone – and there were no colored women [professors] at the time at university.
[It has]…even more meaning as Olay now pursues STEM and the importance of representation, that young women can see women who look like them pursue careers in STEM. What we find is that as girls reach middle and high school age, they have less confidence in STEM as a career because they just get positive reinforcement in other areas. We want to demystify this and give more representation to these young girls. We’ve spent about $2 million on scholarships, mentorship programs to advance our STEM ambition and it’s come full circle for me.
I understand you have a podcast in the works. When can we expect it and what can we expect from it?
SH: It’s in development and it’s really about leading from the perspective of a woman of color. The shortcut I gave him is kind of my “Dilbert” [an American comic strip known for its satirical office humor] live. I think it’s because in many cases my ability to be here at P&G at this time and lead North America Skin, is just a representation of the many people I’ve met, the many mentors , sponsors, and just plain funny office stories, so I just wanted to find a fun way to share what I learned with others.
What is the dream that you have not realized yet?
SH: One dream I would love to have is actually to be able to interview an amazing panel of women who have been transformative and have had these unique stories because as I get older I appreciate women who have been first more. I would love to have a dinner or a podcast or a book that collects the stories of the women who came first, because now I recognize more than ever how brave, courageous, impactful and destined they were, and I would like to love just soaking in and learning and being able to share that with others.