Cover Eva Yu has been a fixture of L’Oréal Hong Kong for more than 20 years (Photo Courtesy of L’Oréal Hong Kong)

Eva Yu broke glass ceilings at L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetics company, to become president and managing director in Hong Kong. Now she’s seizing the chance to be an empowering role model

After graduating from the University of Hong Kong, Eva Yu knew she wanted to work in a people-centric industry and was thrilled when she eventually landed her “dream job” at L’Oréal. She started out as brand manager for Biotherm and began expanding her remit, taking on more brands and more responsibility.

While Yu may have worked her way up the corporate ladder in traditional fashion over two decades, she has also broken new ground. In 2011, she became the first Asian woman appointed managing director for Travel Retail Asia Pacific, overseeing all L’Oréal’s duty-free business across 27 markets—and she’s continued her glass-shattering rise.

“I am proud of being a leader in the beauty industry, an impactful industry that can move the world in different ways,” says Yu, who became president and MD in Hong Kong in 2016. “It has proven to be both resilient and sustainable, and everything my team and I do has the potential to have significant impact on our consumers, our industry, and our planet.”

Determined to be the first and not the last homegrown Asian female leader, Yu is working to elevate other women at L’Oréal as part of building an inclusive team that brings diverse perspectives to the beauty industry. Below she elaborates on her approach to leadership, how science is driving more individualised products and L’Oréal's work to address social issues through corporate initiatives and public campaigns tackling domestic abuse and depression. 

See also: Speaking Up and Embracing Challenges: 3 Female CEOs Who Walk the Talk

You’re the first Asian woman appointed as president and managing director of L’Oréal Hong Kong. What does it mean to you? Why does it matter?

I am proud to be a role model who inspires and coaches women from diverse backgrounds to break the glass ceiling, empowering them to unleash their potential. Being able to pass on my experience to inspire and empower women is immensely fulfilling. 

My role is also about changing people’s perceptions of beauty. Beauty is more than just skin deep; it has a profound impact on people, from making them feel better about their looks to growing their self-esteem to helping them express who they really are. Together with my team, I want to showcase our brand purpose of “creating the beauty that moves the world,” which includes being diverse and inclusive, empowering women, caring for our planet and constantly innovating as a business.

See also: 6 Malaysian Scientists Awarded The L’Oréal-Unesco Fellowship for Women in Science Young Talent Programme Award


How is L’Oréal more broadly playing a role in empowering women and influencing beauty standards?

We support women inside L’Oréal and in the world around us. Since 2014, we have supported the Women’s Empowerment Principles, a collaboration between UN Women and the UN Global Compact that offers guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community.

We are committed to the creation of an equal opportunities environment and family-friendly policies and extensive learning opportunities within L’Oréal that empower everyone to reach their full potential and be themselves. As a business, the Group set aside a €50 million “L’Oréal Fund for Women” in 2020 to empower women at risk. It is part of L’Oréal for the Future, our sustainability programme which addresses the great social and environmental challenges.

Our brands are also using the power of beauty to take on social issues. In 2020, Y.S.L. Beauté began the “Abuse is Not Love” global programme to help combat domestic violence while Maybelline launched the “Brave Together” initiative to destigmatise anxiety and depression and support mental health accessibility. Lancôme’s “Write Her Future” philanthropic programme, which aims to benefit 100,000 women by the end of 2022 through literacy, mentoring and entrepreneurship, will also be coming to Hong Kong later this year.

See also: The Founder of Emotional Inclusion on Destigmatising Mental Health at Work

The beauty industry is not just a woman’s business; we create products for people of all identities, cultures and backgrounds and we strive to have diverse teams
Eva Yu

Is L’Oréal giving back to the Hong Kong community specifically? 

Yes, we strive to create a harmonious community for the betterment of Hong Kong. Our solidarity sourcing programme encourages employing people from vulnerable communities and allowing them to have durable access to work and income. Our suppliers in Hong Kong engage members from the Hong Chi Association (a non-profit dedicated to supporting intellectual disabilities) as staff cafeteria employees and as packaging staff in their warehouses. Our commitment to being a great corporate citizen has earned us the designation of a Caring Company from The Hong Kong Council of Social Service for 19 years.

We also encourage our colleagues to take part in volunteering initiatives, such as Citizen Day, the Group’s longstanding corporate tradition. Last November, I teamed up with over 300 members and we collectively dedicated around 700 volunteer hours with the efforts centred on three themes—helping children with disabilities, preserving the environment and promoting social inclusion. 

See also: How to Support the Charities Helping Hong Kong’s Most Vulnerable During the Pandemic

Beauty products are mostly targeted to women, but to what extent do women hold leadership positions? What do you see as the role of men in the industry?

The beauty industry is not just a woman’s business; we create products for people of all identities, cultures and backgrounds and we strive to have diverse teams with both men and women from different backgrounds to provide perspectives on beauty and serve a diverse range of consumers.

I truly believe that no matter our age, identity, or background, when we come together, we play a collective role in building a company as diverse as the world around us, breaking the barrier to gender equality.

Globally, 55 per cent of L’Oréal’s key positions were held by women in 2021 and we have been recognised by Bloomberg’s 2022 Gender Equality Index for five consecutive years. In Hong Kong, advancing gender equality and diversity in the workplace is also a key priority for us. I have six female leaders on my management team of 10 personnel, and we are exploring how to increase the representation of men to ensure we have an inclusive perspective.

See also: This Make-up Artist Is Redefining What Beauty Looks Like 2022


What’s a misconception people might have about you or the beauty industry?

People tend to think that beauty is merely about looking good on the outside. In fact, beauty gives us confidence in who we are, who we want to be, and our relationships with others. I believe that outer beauty that is enhanced by make-up and skincare—complemented with inner beauty—would make everyone more confident.

Plus, beauty is rarely associated with technology, yet L’Oréal has been innovating for more than 100 years. We are setting a high bar for research, product innovation, personalisation and transparency, online consultations and speed in bringing new products to market and purchase through voice technology.

In 2021, L’Oréal partnered with Clue, the world’s fastest-growing female health tech company, to explore the relationship between skin health and feminine cycles regulated by hormones. In 2022, L’Oréal and Verily, an Alphabet precision health company, forged a strategic partnership to better understand and characterise skin and hair ageing mechanisms and to inform L’Oréal’s precision beauty tech strategy and product development.

YSL Rouge Sur Mesure Powered by Perso, for instance, is a smart at-home device that utilises colour cartridge sets from YSL’s universes of red, nude, orange and fuchsia. With a single touch, consumers can create thousands of lipstick shades tailored to their complexion or outfit. Another example is the SkinCeuticals Custom Dose, an in-store service that combines high-potency ingredients with professional expertise to create a corrective serum to address individual skin types and signs of ageing in only about 10 minutes.  

See also: 7 Asian Women in Femtech to Watch

What is your leadership style and what kind of workplace culture are you building?

Being a leader to me is never about titles or positions; it is a choice we make to exert a positive influence on others. It is also not a destination but a learning process. And attitude matters too. I have always aspired to lead to inspire—something I am particularly passionate about. What’s equally important to me is establishing a good rapport with all stakeholders.

Every day, I aspire to build a strong and agile organisation, where everyone can thrive in a positive workplace with a rich culture of teamwork, feedback, trust, and respect. I provide clear goals and frameworks while allowing flexibility and freedom in delivering against those goals. This is only be possible with the presence of an effective feedback and communication culture that encourages active listening and empathy.

I am proud that L’Oréal is a people-centric company, with policies that support remote working and flexible benefits. Our new online learning platform counts more than 20,000 courses that upskill and inspire, from language lessons to TED talks.

Beyond my staff, I have had the chance to inspire and mentor the next generation of female leaders by playing an active role as a member of the Board of Directors of the Asian University for Women Support Foundation. It works to mobilise resources and assist with outreach and development for the Asian University for Women, which is a Bangladesh-based regional institution dedicated to women’s education and leadership development. 

See also: 13 Asian-Owned Beauty Brands to Know and Support Now


What advice would you have for your younger self?

My motto is “where there is a will; there is a way.” If I could meet my younger self, I would dare her to be a bolder soul and accept whatever challenge came her way.

But I am all grown up now, so instead I would tell my younger counterparts to join our L’Oréal management trainee programme and get hands-on experience or encourage them to sign up for Brandstorm, the Group’s global annual innovation competition for university students to be creative and tackle a real business challenge.

Inspiring and nurturing my team and seeing them succeed and realise their full potential is not just a vital priority but also the number one motivation and reward for me.

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