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Inspiring Business Women in APAC: Meng Choo Cheah

Meng Choo Cheah is the Director, Head of Legal at Sephora. She is a key legal strategist and innovator with 15+ years of legal, compliance and regulatory experience.

Can you tell us about your career journey as a Lawyer?

Growing up, if anyone asked me what I wanted to be, “a fashion designer” would always be my answer, I would not have imagined myself working as a lawyer at a fashion/ luxury group.

After completing my law degree and being admitted as a Barrister in England and Wales, I was all geared to be a litigator. But with a twist of fate, I found myself on the path of becoming an M&A lawyer instead. I remained working as a lawyer in the corporate world for six years before moving in-house into the Private Equity space focusing on transactions and investments across the Asia Pacific for another four and a half years. I then transitioned into the FMCG sector and eventually pioneered Sephora’s legal team in Asia (excluding China). Having been in the role for over four years, I am now leading a team looking after the legal and compliance affairs of Sephora’s omnichannel businesses.

In your experience, what are the benefits of diverse teams and diverse organisations?

Diversity is fundamental to the success of any team. When we have diversity, as Jimmy Carter so succinctly puts, “We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.” By keeping an open mind, we can innovate, we can imagine, and we can think outside the box. My experience working with diverse teams and diverse organisations to date has exposed me to new and different ways of working and taught me to not only embrace and celebrate our differences but also to the similarities that we share, this is something we can all leverage to further boost our own performance and that of our team.

How diverse is Sephora in terms of gender?

I am very proud to be part of an organisation which has 85% of the current workforce led by women. Sephora is in a unique position in that regard. That said, we need to ensure that we do not become complacent, as the fight is not over. We need to ensure we continue to support our female colleagues by leaning in and checking in.   

One of our key focuses at Sephora is to take care of our people, we believe in investing in our people to ensure they have a fulfilling career path and development. Focus is also placed on developing talent and ensuring support for female and male employees alike.

Does Sephora have any gender diversity programs in place?

Sephora, as part of LVMH, has benefitted from a new digital platform and community that empowers LVMH women through videos, articles, podcasts and more. At the Asia level, Sephora has in the past few years established a Diversity & Inclusion committee, which has three key focus areas, one of which is gender. The focus for 2020 has been to create awareness amongst all Sephora employees.  We are frequently engaged with Diversity & Inclusion initiatives, campaigns and activities, which include gender as a core pillar of conversation. Personally speaking, having access to this information and career stories of other successful women leaders within the community has certainly empowered and encouraged me to bring my career to the next level.

What is the main thing you've seen in any organisation that you think works, from a diversity point of view, or that enables women to progress?

The majority of our Sephora Asia leadership team is female. The recent advancement of two senior female leaders (Asia President and Managing Director in SEA) reflects the strength and importance of female empowerment in our organisation and Sephora’s ability to develop great talent. As a female in the workforce who is also balancing being a mother, I feel lucky to have had very supportive mentors who are extremely empathetic and have encouraged me to pursue my dreams and ambitions, while still being able to maintain a balanced work-life and spend time with my family.

Is there any other advice that you would give to women to help them succeed in the corporate world?

Be clear on your priorities in life and acknowledge that it may change over time. Ensure you have the necessary support to help you maintain a well-balanced professional and personal life. And most importantly, take the time to maintain your mental well-being as we are often the last to care for ourselves.

Have you had any mentors? If you do, how have they helped you in your career?

I am lucky to have had several mentors throughout my career, who have all given invaluable advice regarding both my professional and personal life. They have also been incredibly supportive in helping me grow as a young lawyer, for example imparting fundamental skills to help me grow in my role and realise my goals. Their trust and empowerment have given me the confidence to grow.

As a mentor, what advice would you give to your mentees?  

Do not be afraid to ask as there are no wrong (or stupid) questions. If you don’t understand, it is likely that someone is feeling the same. There is a certain level of hard work needed in those early years of your career and the foundation that you built will benefit you in the long run in creating a successful career. When the time comes, do not be afraid to take that leap of faith as well as calculated risks.

For more Inspiring Business Women in APAC interviews, please click here.

Posted about 3 years ago
About the author:
Rinku Goenka

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