• ESSEC Business School’s exchange program with Keio University paved the way for a journey to Asia.
  • Human resources is about empowering people and championing culture.
  • Lead with compassion, collaboration, and co-creation.

You might have heard the saying that beauty is but skin-deep. Yet, the right shade of rouge, bright lipstick, and well-drawn eyeliner strokes can do far more than merely make one look good on the outside—it also makes them feel good on the inside.

This is what beauty giant Sephora hopes to achieve through Classes for Confidence, personalized beauty classes held by its esteemed beauty advisors since 2018. Through these, Sephora seeks to empower those in need with skincare, makeup, and grooming tips to help them discover the beauty and confidence from within to embrace their individuality.

Examples like this are why Vanessa Iloste, HR Vice President Asia at Sephora, confidently declares: “The more you work with beauty, the more you realize it is not skin-deep.” Instead, it is a “laboratory” of society that gives a voice to pertinent social issues such as environmental conservation, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Behind the Scenes in the World of Human Resources

Today, as the French national leads the charge for the company’s regional HR strategy and direction in Asia, one might describe her role as needing to cultivate the inner beauty of the company’s 6,600 regional employees so they may help the company’s values shine.

“People think that HR is about talent acquisition and manpower planning. But it’s much more complex than that,” she muses. “You are actually shaping the business culture alongside the leadership team.”

To do this, there is a vast ethical dimension to the work: “When we offer choices to people, we need to make sure these are choices where they can grow and develop themselves—we need to make sure that our intentions are pure and that we are offering them a real opportunity,” she shares.

Iloste has done this for over two decades as Regional HR Development Manager for LVMH in Asia, Regional HR Director, Asia Pacific at LVMH Watch & Jewelry, and HR Vice President Asia North at DFS before joining Sephora.

There is a long list of accomplishments to her name, but ask her which project is the most meaningful, and she is quick to point out that her success is measured not by projects but by the people she has helped empower.

“It’s always been about the person I support—about their vision, hopes, even their drawbacks and areas for improvement.”

Championing Diversity at Work

Iloste’s unwavering stance on treating people right can be traced back to her early days in Asia.

Her foray into the region began during her undergraduate days at ESSEC Business School when she was accepted to an exchange program with Keio University. Post-graduation, she worked at Société Générale in Tokyo before finally applying to LVMH in 2001.

“To be very honest with you, when I decided where to work at LVMH, I chose based on the boss that I wanted to work with—and he happened to be doing HR,” she said. “It’s not very often that you meet people committed to ethics, and just looking at his high sense of responsibility was inspiring,” she explains.

With her mentor’s guidance, I developed an instant affinity for the HR practice. Even in her formative years, she began breaking the glass ceiling for inclusivity, advocating for the development and promotion of her local colleagues.

“It’s important because diversity fuels creativity,” she says. “If we think exactly the same, we won’t be able to create something extraordinary.”

Developing Safe Spaces for Teams to Flourish

Today, as the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion intensifies and the digital tools available to HR professionals improve, Iloste is more equipped than ever to champion the causes she believes in.

But she holds no lofty goals of glory and recognition. Instead, her goal is remarkably down to earth: “I want to create a safe space for everyone to feel comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions and fighting for what they believe in.”

After all, in many ways, ESSEC was that safe space for her—a place that honed her skills and allowed her to “open the incredible door to Asia and explore the world.”

Her advice to ESSEC students present and future is this: “To say the world is your oyster means that it is entitled to you—but I never felt like that. If you want to explore, you must be ready to work hard for it and have the guts to try it.”

It’s timeless advice because although beauty trends will come and go when it comes to making a difference in people’s lives, the values she holds close, like humility, authenticity, and perseverance, will never go out of fashion.