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Louise Pender looks beyond Zalora’s passion for fashion

You’re a true-blue Asian online fashionista shopper if you have a Zalora account.

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Louise Pender (left) celebrates International Women’s Day with her team of “Zalorians”

Giving access to a vast selection of 500 top international and local names in fashion, Zalora started its business in early 2012. Its presence in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Taiwan is a testament to its enduring innovation in online shopping. Customers can browse through thousands of products with a 30-day free return policy, buy-now-pay-later scheme, quick deliveries, free delivery for ceiling purchases, and various payment methods.

But what about the quality of its employees’ life at work?

Chief of Staff Asia talks to Zalora’s general counsel and chief people officer, Louise Pender (pictured above, left), to find out about the work culture of the fashion-focused e-commerce platform. We discover that, indeed, what happens internally transcends beyond the delivery of customer satisfaction.

Becoming a Zalorian

The company fashionably calls its employees Zalorians, who must possess certain qualities to align with the platform’s thrusts on diversity.

“The common trait we look for is alignment with Zalora’s unique culture and values, which sets it apart from other companies,” Pender says.

“Zalora takes so much pride in having a ‘limitless’ mindset, full of individuals bringing a mix of art and science to make us rationally creative. We care for each other and work as a team to exceed expectations regardless of the role and professional background.”

Zalora copes with the ever-growing demand in online retail by being intentional in investing in its talent, the company’s main priority, according to Pender. In terms of impact, this growing business demand did not spare talent acquisition.

Pender believes that putting their employees first has set Zalora well for the future.

“We are a growing company. We are always looking for top talent to help us meet our audacious goals, and we’ve been very strategic about creating and nurturing a culture that attracts the best talent. So, as we grow, we will continue to balance the right mix of experienced and new talent across all segments.”

Part of this goal of having the right mix involves having a balance of new and senior workforce members. In line with this, Zalora has established performance-measuring steps focusing on the employee-Zalora connection and creating a true sense of belonging.

“We live, eat, and breathe our People Mission Statement, which is to create a happy and vibrant workplace by delivering an outstanding end-to-end employee experience. Attracting and retaining top talent through compensation and other direct benefits is not enough. We should create an excellent working environment so that our people may develop a strong connection with Zalora and enhance their desire to see the team’s success,” Pender explains.

To measure its employees’ engagement and performance, Zalora uses several standard tools, she said.

However, she quickly pointed out that a happy and vibrant workplace relies on the art and science of listening to people frequently and responding to their changing needs. The pandemic has also taught them not to be complacent about this.

“What works today may not necessarily work tomorrow,” Pender continues.

The conversation moved on to quiet quitting. As an HR leader, Pender admits that recently she has been reflecting so much on the concept.

“It’s a new phrase but an old phenomenon. It’s just been more hidden in the new environment we all operate. Disengagement doesn’t occur overnight. It usually stems from a prolonged period of dissatisfaction for many reasons, and it is often too late by the time it is recognised,” Pender comments.

Pender readies Zalora for a new era of a hybrid future

The pandemic has changed the way workers do their jobs. Now more than ever, companies respond to workplace challenges with new techniques geared towards a win-win outcome for employees and employers.
Louise Pender, Zalora’s general counsel and chief people officer, describes how the fashion e-commerce platform is setting new best practices and blazes the trail for this new era of work.
 
She shares that Zalorians, as the company’s employees are called, have adapted very well since the onset of the pandemic.
 
“We have gone through some tough times, but we have found innovations to ensure that we continue our operations amidst widespread restrictions while caring for colleagues in need,” Pender tells Chief of Staff Asia.
 
Zalora has enforced a deliberate over-emphasis on transparent and frequent two-way communication, culture and engagement activities, and a focus on mental health and well-being at its workplace.
 
“These have helped create a sense of certainty, connection, and belonging, notwithstanding all of the disturbing things happening in the market and our employees’ personal lives,” she says.
 
Zalora conducts a comprehensive Future of Work survey to gather feedback on evolving priorities and concerns of its employees, in addition to frequent Town Halls and Q&A sessions, Pender explains.
 
This allows the company to lean on solid data before making changes or implementing well-being initiatives, ensuring relevant and impactful options for as many people as possible.
 
“The insights from the survey form the basis of Zalora’s Hybrid Future of the Workplace Strategy, a four-pronged approach outlining our workplace transition into the post-pandemic world. Recognising the diverse home environments of our employees, we launched the Home Workspace Support Policy and Home Workplace Subsidy. These provide flexibility for our employees in choosing the support they need most in transitioning to working from home,” she enumerates.
 
Zalora has shifted to a full hybrid work mode since trends and studies have shown that employees highly value workplace flexibility.
 
Pender explains that after implementing a permanent hybrid work policy in 2020, they have learned a lot over the last couple of years operating in this mode, such as the need for in-person connection for engagement, relationships, culture, and mental health.
 
“We encourage our hybrid employees to go to the office a couple of days a week. However, we also appreciate that some roles can work 100% remotely, so we have developed fully flexible positions that operate equally effectively.
 
“We will continue to adapt our strategy for the future of work to meet the changing needs of our employees and our ever-evolving world. It means continually reviewing our policies and procedures to keep them relevant to our culture and current events. For now, we are committed to full hybrid work,” she emphasises.
 
During the pandemic, Zalora’s employees’ mental health and personal well-being also became front of mind as the impacts of isolation and increased home and work pressures collided, Pender says.
 
She added that employees received free counselling from trained psychologists, additional mental health leave days, and many self-care tools and platforms to remove the sense of isolation.
 
Don’t miss the next installment in this series, where Pender will speak about Zalora’s best practices in using technology for HR.

Pender balances Zalora’s human and digital connections

As a digital business, Zalora’s simple way of keeping the “human” in Human Resources is by aligning with its People vision, mission, and values that its People and Culture Team stands firmly by to create a happy and vibrant workplace.
Louise Pender, the fashion platform’s general counsel and chief people officer, speaks about how Zalora utilises technology to serve its internal customers, also known as Zalorians.
 
“We are all working to make Zalora the first choice for talent in our markets, and winning the hearts and minds of Zalorians is our priority. We test all our initiatives against our team values to ensure we put our people first. We actively foster diversity, inclusion, and belonging, deliver an outstanding end-to-end employee experience and remain endlessly curious,” Pender says.
 
Zalora’s embracing of technology enhances its employees’ experience through multiple channels for a clear line of communication across the organisation, exemplified by the monthly Town Halls, newsletters called Limitless @ Zalora, and weekly emails from the CEO, Gunjan Soni.
 
“We carefully curate Z-Talks, our training, and knowledge-sharing sessions, to cater to employees’ interests and life needs. It has grown popular, with as many as 500 participants in each session. People and product management are some of the topics covered in these sessions, as well as financial planning, stress management, and self-motivation. These sessions foster a connection with Zalora and enhance employees’ skills,” she cites.
 
“In short, our team’s DNA centres around providing a human touch, evident in how we cared for our employees during the pandemic and how we have carried that forward into the post-pandemic environment with the progressive hybrid work and well-being initiatives.”
 
The HR leader joined Zalora as general counsel at the beginning of 2016. However, she says that her passion has always been for people and culture. Her shot at turning her passion into a profession came after she led Zalora’s Covid Task Force in 2020.
 
“I raised my hand to take on the vacant Chief People Officer role. I care deeply about Zalora and creating a high-performance environment. I had a clear vision about how I would approach the role in a very people-centric way. So, I now wear both hats – Chief People Officer and General Counsel. It is a little bit unusual! But I get the best of both types of roles,” she enthuses.
 
Pender’s focus then was managing the employees through the pandemic, keeping them safe while maintaining productivity and engagement. Presently, she prioritises fostering a people environment that would take Zalora to the next level of growth and performance while maintaining its unique culture of connecting and caring for its people.
 
What does she love about her job?
 
“The obvious answer is the people and the culture at Zalora. Beyond that is the level of opportunity and breadth of experience at Zalora. Not every General Counsel gets the opportunity to explore an interest in HR. But this is part of our company culture – strong performers receive opportunities through promotion or other professional interests. Our geographic footprint and complex operating model provide good venues for our people to develop. I’ve seen this happen time and time again. I think it’s exciting!”

Getting to know: Louise Pender, Zalora’s chief people officer

Leading the workforce of a digital fashion business while keeping everything in check is an exciting experience, according to the lawyer-turned-HR-leader, Louise Pender. As the chief people officer of Zalora, the two hats she wears are part of the company’s culture of opportunities for good performers.
 
 
 

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Chief of Staff Asia