Article: Equip employees with right skillset to stay relevant: Sephora’s Vanessa Iloste


Equip employees with right skillset to stay relevant: Sephora’s Vanessa Iloste

Sephora Asia’s vice president of HR spoke with People Matters about L&D and DEI initiatives at the global multi-channel prestige beauty retailer and how skilling programmes need to be tailor-made to match employees’ requirements.
Equip employees with right skillset to stay relevant: Sephora’s Vanessa Iloste

L&D has always been a reality of the HR industry but shot to greater prominence in recent years when digital acceleration and large-scale layoffs during the pandemic pushed people to upskill more and faster. It’s now common to hear in-depth about various programmes, development courses and training modules introduced by organisations with the singular aim of encouraging professional development among employees. 

For such learning and development (L&D) programmes to be truly effective, the L&D ethos needs to become an integral part of an organisation’s culture. To get more insights into how organisations view learning and development, People Matters spoke with Vanessa Iloste, vice president-HR for Sephora Asia.

How does Sephora Asia view learning and development from an organisational perspective?

Sephora Asia views it as a right at every level of the organisation, no matter an employee’s specialisation or role. We believe that there is no ceiling when it comes to how much an employee can grow and want everyone to have the opportunity to grow within the company, all the way from a newcomer to those at the C-suite level.  

It’s critical that our employees keep up with the latest innovation, product, tool or trend, or risk being obsolete. This means that L&D programmes have to cover diverse roles from e-commerce to retail services, and at many different levels.  So it is important to tailor-fit learning and development materials to these different needs.  

The workplace is constantly changing and continuous learning is an integral part of it. What are the steps that Sephora Asia has taken to integrate DEI into L&D?  

DEI+B is a critical part of the Sephora DNA and we work hard to ensure our community is empowered to be themselves and who they are. When it comes to L&D, we make it a focus through programmes such as Unconscious Bias training and refresher courses that are regularly updated. We also keep a steady cadence of internal employee events and activations that aim to educate and equip employees with the right tools and materials. We’ve also created an Allyship guide that we incorporate into every new employee onboarding programme (over 1-3  days).

What are your thoughts on leadership training at different levels - both  managerial and C-Suite? 

Leadership means different things to leaders at different levels of the organisation because based on the amount of people you lead, your priorities are different. At the managerial level,  leaders may be more concerned about managing their teams while at the C-suite, leaders are more concerned with the direction of the organisation and leading other senior leaders. Thus, it is imperative that training is tailored to prepare them for the problems they might encounter at each level. Training programmes at the mid-management level cover the foundations of leadership and help leaders learn  more about themselves through feedback exercises. C-suite programmes are more complex and involve elements of coaching or personalised follow-up – focusing on team effectiveness, dealing with conflicts etc

Are there any interesting upskilling/reskilling/L&D programmes that you have run at Sephora Asia that have seen great results? Could you please talk about one such programme?    

As a beauty retailer, our in-store Beauty Advisors are our pride and joy. The Sephora University is focused on retail staff training and development because they require a very specialised set of skills and training. We coordinate with brand trainers to staff for our Brand and Product training, provide skills training for make-up artistry and skin-care expertise, service and sales training, where beauty advisors become adept in delivering the customer experience and leadership training for management staff. We make sure the training is region specific to best cater to our customers’ needs.  

The pandemic has changed so much about how we view work and also how we actually work. What do you think the future of work will look like?  

Hybrid work and flexibility are here to stay. The pandemic has forced us to re-examine the balance we want between work and personal life. It has also encouraged leaders and organisations to be more deliberate in their hiring strategy and in the culture that they want to build.  

I believe happy employees make for happy customers, which will lead to a healthy and happy organisation. To that end, I think the future of work is one that prioritises the physical and mental well-being of employees and emphasises inclusive and empathetic leadership to create a work environment that people want to come back to. This means an environment where employees feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work and know that there is a support network in place to help them thrive.   

In which direction do you see Sephora Asia headed in the next five years?

Even though we have always had a culture anchored in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, there will always be ways that we can improve. From a culture and brand perspective, we are on a journey to transform and embed purpose into every level and function. From a business perspective, it’s crucial we continue to empower our people to deliver the best beauty experience to our community. From a people perspective, I am a firm believer of equipping employees with the right skillset to stay relevant and creating an environment that is nurturing and safe.

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Topics: Leadership

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