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Advancing gender equality in the Philippines: A crucial balancing act

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By Kristine Romano and Boris Van

HERALDED by the hashtag #balanceforbetter, International Women’s Day 2019 arrives March 8 with the call to create a gender-balanced working world. Balance, while important to all, is particularly relevant to women who — much more so than their male colleagues — are often expected to strike a balance between career building and homemaking, between bringing home a paycheck and bringing up the children, and even between compassion and ambition.

From a more practical perspective, gender balance means creating more equitable opportunities for women, particularly at the highest levels of an organization. According to “The power of parity: Advancing women’s equality in Asia Pacific,” a report published by McKinsey’s business and research arm, McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), women in the region continue to be concentrated in lower growth sectors and lower paying roles. The talent pipeline also narrows for women, with a drop of over 50% of representation from entry level to senior management.

Beyond the moral and ethical implications, gender inequality puts corporations at a disadvantage. McKinsey research from our ‘Women Matter’ series has shown that greater representation of women in senior corporate positions correlates to more dynamic discussions, a broader range of factors considered, and healthy challenges to conventional thinking.




Ultimately, measures that help promote gender balance directly improve the work-life balance of all employees, female and male. These factors can be crucial as today’s top talent often weigh work-life balance more keenly than previous generators.

Gender balance — a trisector effort

Much is at stake. MGI’s report has estimated that $12 trillion can be added to global growth by advancing gender equality. The Philippines has the potential to add $40 billion a year to its GDP by 2025, which would increase its current economic growth trajectory by about 7%.

Capturing these benefits requires not just a vision and a will, but also proactive and focused measures. Governments, companies, and society, which make up this key trifecta, must work together to unlock this potential.

The Philippines has already taken steps to address sources of gender inequality. The country is already one of the best performers in the Asia-Pacific region in terms of participation in professional and technical jobs, and in leading roles in business and politics.

However, even for women in positions of power, an evident pay gap exists. The Power of Parity Philippines report published in 2017 found that 67% of all professionals are women, but they earn 8.5% less on average than their male counterparts.

Prioritizing government action for gender equality

The government — the first actor in the trisector effort — should take practical steps to encourage and enable more women to join the workforce. The Expanded Maternity Leave Law implemented in February is one such step. Under the new measures, all working mothers are guaranteed 105 days of paid maternity leave credits, with an additional 15 days of paid leave given to single mothers and an option transfer up to seven of their 105 paid-leave days to the child’s father. The law effectively increases paid paternity leave from seven to 14 days and increases maternity leave from 60 days for a normal delivery to up to 105 days.

The government can also step in to help women fulfill their economic potential by expanding their access to finance. Unlike in many other countries, women and men in the Philippines are relatively equal when seeking loans. Overall, however, financial inclusion remains low and only 32% of adults in the Philippines have a formal bank account. Self-employed women and small entrepreneurs are especially disadvantaged, with only a small percentage of assets owned by women available to be used as collateral to gain access to credit.

The government can address these issues, for instance, by implementing microfinance programs tailored to female entrepreneurs and by easing financial access through public sector banks. Government grants should also support enterprises such as Hapinoy’s sari-sari store program, which has helped more than 3,000 women to become more effective micro-entrepreneurs.

The business case for gender equality

Companies, of course, also have big roles to play. Many new mothers drop out of the workforce and teleworking opportunities would help parents balance work and family responsibilities. (As a supplemental benefit, it would also help ease traffic congestion, which is estimated to cost the Philippines around PHP 3.5 billion per day).

Filipino women from low-income families also tend to have children earlier than their peers in other countries and are especially vulnerable. The United Nations Population Fund estimates teenage pregnancy costs the Philippines PHP 33 billion in lost earnings annually. While the Philippines has many programmes that help young school dropouts get jobs, there are no large-scale initiatives and companies can step in with programmes designed around the needs of young mothers.

Cultural change to break gender gridlock

Society generally is the last trisector element. Deeply rooted attitudes play an integral part in limiting the potential of women and an investment in public awareness can ease the path for working women. According to statistics from the Department of Labor and Employment, about 30% of working-age women report that household or family duties prevent them from working.

The movement to change these traditional mindsets may be slow, but it is essential for real and long-term change. Education and awareness are crucial. In Central Luzon, the Department of Education has begun to train teachers to ensure that all lessons use a gender lens in the curriculum, textbooks, teaching and learning, and in the design of school facilities. In addition, schools can work in tandem with companies to sponsor and mentor women to encourage more broad participation in the economy.

The Philippines stands out as a beacon in the Asia-Pacific region for its work on reducing gender gaps. The country can build on this strong foundation to further empower women and boost the nation’s economic dynamism and growth. If the tripartite actors — government, companies, and society generally — work together, more progress can be made and everyone can capture the benefits of #balanceforbetter.

 

The authors are from McKinsey & Company. Kristine Romano is Managing Partner for the Philippines, based in Manila, where Boris Van is an Associate Partner.