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As vice president of corporate responsibility at Ascena Retail Group, Jeannette Ferran Astorga is helping women all around the world realize their potential. Ascena is a collective that encompasses renowned fashion brands, including Ann Taylor, Loft, Lou & Grey, Lane Bryant, Catherines, and Justice. Ferran Astorga oversees an array of community outreach, leadership, sustainability, and diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Under her leadership, those social impact initiatives have flourished—the company has delivered important health and financial education to more than one hundred thousand women across its global supply chain, joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and become a signatory to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles. The company has also worked with Vital Voices to train more than three hundred high school students through the HERLead fellowship program.
“That is what sets Ascena apart—its strongly rooted culture of giving and doing the right thing,” Ferran Astorga notes. “We put that effort, that spirit of giving to and helping other women and girls, at the heart of everything we do, every day.”
Early Days of Inspiration
Ferran Astorga has long been inspired by a culture of giving. After emigrating from Cuba in the 1960s, her parents had to start over from scratch. Ferran Astorga’s father ultimately finished his education and became a CEO of a publicly traded company, she says, but she never forgot how hard he and her mother had to work. Or how deeply committed they were to giving back, despite their own hardships.
Ferran Astorga also realized early on how success was not solely achieved in the boardroom or C-suite, as she watched her mom take on leadership roles in Ferran Astorga’s all-girls school and within the local community. Her mother volunteered in various programs to enable young girls through entrepreneurship, setting an example that girls need to feel supported and empowered to define their own paths to success and self-confidence.
“My parents’ work ethic and, even more importantly, their values of gratitude and giving back have shaped who I am as a professional, an executive, and a leader,” Ferran Astorga says. “They sparked in me a curiosity about how I can drive those values through my professional endeavors, and that’s probably why I sought from the very beginning to work in an organization that had a broader purpose.”
According to Ferran Astorga, that spark was rekindled about sixteen years ago during one of her first experiences at an Ascena brand. While building and establishing a human rights compliance program, she gained a whole new appreciation for the source-to-store production process.
“I quickly realized how specialized and intricate the work is. For example, to construct a sweater entails a tremendous amount of detail going into the garment,” the VP recalls. “So that triggered a lot of curiosity for me about the dependency of fashion companies on manufacturing partners and the people who make our beautiful garments and accessories.”
Building Networks to Drive Success
Ferran Astorga’s curiosity and her passion to become informed about the corporate supply chain have driven her to become an expert in corporate responsibility. “It’s been a phenomenal journey for me,” she says. “An exploration of learning but also of leadership. We started with just one person on our team and now we have teams based all over the world.”
In the field of corporate responsibility, Ferran Astorga notes, a team is essential to your success. Meaningful change only happens when you build coalitions and networks, she believes, partly because those groups allow you to get input from numerous people and bring diverse perspectives to your project.
But Ferran Astorga points out that this means building networks among leaders too. “I feel very fortunate to work for a company where leaders support each other,” she offers. “I am surrounded by impressive women leaders and executives who have spent their careers supporting women here at Ascena. I get to engage with our amazing board of directors, 60 percent of whom are women and all of whom are completely informed about and involved in our work.”
Galvanized by the support she saw among the women working at Ascena, Ferran Astorga decided to cosponsor a new initiative, called the Working Parent Associate Resource Group. The group builds networks among associates with parenting responsibilities at Ascena’s New York City offices, Ferran Astorga explains, and has established a mentoring program that will match associates coming back from parental leave with a buddy who can help them navigate through the new stage in their professional journey.
“These women have all helped me be successful,” Ferran Astorga says. “I felt I had a responsibility to pay it forward and provide them with a resource to help them through this major transition.”
Not Done Yet
Ferran Astorga has already achieved so much as VP of corporate responsibility at Ascena, but she doesn’t think she’s anywhere near being done. “That’s my nature,” Ferran Astorga says laughing. “I am very goal-oriented, but to me that means setting a goal and then surpassing it.”
Ferran Astorga and her team have created a long-term plan for further driving the company’s impact on women and girls, she says. This strategy fully represents Ascena and Ferran Astorga’s vision of an enterprise-wide alliance—it extends to customers, suppliers, and stakeholders alike—and builds on Ascena’s long legacy of championing the confidence, leadership, and well-being of women, girls, and communities.
This strategy is Her, at the Heart of Us. It is rooted in a commitment to helping women and girls thrive by advancing leadership training and opportunities, strengthening communities through a focus on sustainability and the supply chain, and promoting health and well-being. Ascena and its stakeholders aim to double their impact by raising $250 million by 2025 to help women and girls everywhere be their best selves. Her, at the Heart of Us is “action and effort,” Ferran Astorga says. “We’re driving the impact we believe in.”
Jeannette Ferran Astorga is proud of so much that she and her team have accomplished at Ascena, but what stands out to her most is the sheer commitment to good demonstrated by both the company and its customers.
A perfect example of that commitment, Ferran Astorga says, is the company’s dedication to empowering women across the global supply chain through initiatives like its 100,000 Women Commitment. “It’s because of the women in our supply chain that we are able to make beautiful products,” Ferran Astorga explains. “I’ve seen the challenges they face in balancing their work with the responsibilities of the home in very rural and remote farming communities, and also witnessed women neglecting their own health in order to care for their families. That just makes me so proud of the life-changing health education that we have helped provide.”
That commitment, Ferran Astorga says, has only been enhanced by its formalization. Although diversity and inclusion have always been part of Ascena’s core values, Ferran Astorga is delighted with the results they have seen since making them an official part of the company’s mission. “It has really enabled us to celebrate our community and their unique contributions to our culture,” Ferran Astorga says.
But the company is not alone in its commitment. Ferran Astorga is continually amazed and inspired by Ascena’s customers and associates and their passion for supporting the causes that the company serves. “I am so incredibly grateful to be part of a company where I can see our customers and associates’ generosity, their philanthropy, and charitable commitment to giving back,” Ferran Astorga says. “During my tenure here, we’ve reached record-breaking levels of fund-raising and nonprofit donations. And we’ve done that through our community—our customers and store teams and corporate office team.”