Xiaochun Luo - Avon
Group Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer
As Group Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer of Avon, Dr. Xiaochun Luo leads Global Research and Development and is responsible for developing and supporting the company’s worldwide product lines.
She joined Avon in 1999 as Director for Global Hair Care and was promoted to Executive Director in May of 2001 and then Vice President of New Technology & New Product Innovation in December of 2002.
Prior to joining Avon, Dr. Luo spent almost 10 years in Global R&D at the Procter & Gamble Company. She holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Purdue University. Dr. Luo and her husband live in the greater New York area, where they are raising their two sons.
Of what one initiative are you most proud?
I’m truly proud of our ability at Avon to convert scientific discoveries into tangible products that excite our Representatives and service global customers. We travel the globe meeting with world-renowned experts in disciplines ranging from biomedical research to optical science and then incorporate their latest findings into innovative products to benefit consumers. That’s really very exciting to a scientist - to see effort become reality. One recent example that stands out is our launch of ANEW Genics, a skincare breakthrough that helps women look up to 10 years younger in just eight weeks. Genics was the result of a multi-year journey in which Avon scientists discovered a way to unleash the power of the so-called youth gene and create a revolutionary anti-aging product.
What about STEM gives you passion?
Utilizing science and technology is the best way to surprise consumers. Only science and technology can open new doors to give consumers something they didn’t know they wanted but love. That’s so satisfying!
What traits do senior leaders need to effectively support and advance STEM today?
First, as senior leaders, we need to be role models in sharing our passion about the wonders of science and helping people understand the real-world, tangible benefits of it in their own lives, their communities and in society at large.
Second, these fields are fundamentally about experimentation so I think it’s important for senior STEM leaders to encourage their teams to take risks. The nature of scientific exploration means there are inevitably failures, but we cannot punish people for failure or we’ll never encourage them to try new things. If scientists don’t attempt the big things, then we’ll never have the “big ideas.”
What can we do to assure that there will be more women leaders in STEM?
It’s great to see more and more women in STEM, but we still have a lot of work to do. We need to highlight and elevate women in STEM so they can serve as role models for the next generation. That’s critical.
We also need to plant the STEM seed early. There’s still a misconception that girls are not strong in science. So we need to build their confidence in their scientific abilities so they can enjoy and succeed in STEM fields. This means eliminating fear and doubt.
Girls tend to follow the rules and be more risk averse. However, to advance in STEM, girls and boys need to be willing to be mischievous, break some rules, and challenge the status quo. We have to instill that boldness as well as a sense of comfort with ambiguity. A successful STEM career often requires the ability to problem solve in situations where you don’t necessarily have total clarity and need to make an educated guess.
What is your concept of mentoring and sponsorship of others for STEM careers?
It is the responsibility of STEM leaders to do all we can to promote the importance of science and technology. It is essential to expose students early on to real-world science settings, such as laboratories and other research facilities, so they can begin to make the all-important connection between science and its tangible applications. When we have “Take Your Children to Work Day” at Avon Global R&D, we spend a lot of time describing what all our different scientists here do. We try to open their eyes to all the possibilities.
In the workplace, we need to maintain career momentum by making sure STEM employees are well supported, developed and rewarded. At Avon R&D, we recently re-engineered our technical career track for scientists after realizing the traditional Avon track didn’t properly acknowledge and reward the accomplishments and talents of scientists. It’s a good motivator, and I’m glad we’ve been able to make this happen.