Women in Charge: Linda Stephenson Talks About The Benefits of Studying Sciences
Women in Charge: Linda Stephenson, Chemist turned Cosmetic Entrepreneur, is encouraging more women to pursue STEM courses.
Written by Alison Joutsi
After graduating with a Chemistry degree from the University of Toronto, and working at Johnson & Johnson, MAC Cosmetics and Estee Lauder, Linda Stephenson noticed a gap in the skincare market. And now, she is inspiring more women to pursue STEM-related courses through her successful cosmetic and skincare company, Mèreadesso.
What once started as a skin care ingredient “wish list” in her home, has expanded into a successful company with products now sold at Nordstrom, the Shopping Channel and Amazon.com.
On the journey from chemist to savvy business women:
I left the corporate world in 2000 to fill a gap in the marketplace. The skincare lines at the time had multiple products and many steps. As a busy professional, I needed efficiency. I didn’t have time in the morning to use multiple products, nor did I have the space in my carry on. I also wanted to create a workplace that would allow me to customize my hours to be a mother, such as having flexible hours and the ability to work from home if my children were sick. The solution to both these problems was the creation of my company, Mèreadesso, meaning ‘mere’ in French, and ‘now’ in Italian.
My company started with a pen and a pencil in my home kitchen. I made a list of all the skin care ingredients that worked and I used my chemistry background to experiment with different ingredients to create the right form. This would have been impossible to do without my science background.
The entire skin care line has only 10 products. This is what differentiates my line from others. Having a science background allowed me to understand that skin is the largest organ in the body, and it will pull what it needs from any product. It truly does not matter if your skin is oily or matte.
On being an entrepreneur.
Financially, it takes roughly two years before you see a return. I took this risk because I believed in the product, so entrepreneurs need to be risk averse. Although I didn’t have deep pockets at the beginning, I had a competitive advantage. I was nimble and quick, and I could make decisions very quickly without multiple sign offs from senior leadership teams. This allowed me to bring products to market quickly to meet customer demands. For example, I noticed how airport customs officials would ask women to unzip their cosmetic bag to show them what was inside. I created clear packing that solved this problem very quickly.
On encouraging more women to pursue STEM courses.
In the 80’s women represented 15% of my chemistry class, and only 5% of students in physics were women. This cultural bias still exists. To change this, programs that generate awareness for jobs one wouldn’t necessarily think require a science background should be created. For example, cooking is a form of chemistry, and clothes are now designed on a computer. This is science.
Students should not be allowed to drop science courses in high school. Science trains your brain to think logically. Even though I don’t personally use physics and biology in my everyday life, these courses have trained me to think in a certain way which has helped me succeed in business.
As the world is progressing, it is important to ask ourselves, what will humans be able to offer with the rise of artificial intelligence, which has the ability to replace any job that has routine. Pursuing science and math will help develop critical thinking skills that can’t be replaced by machines.