The View From Taft

women empowerment
If you had a choice, would you rather have been born a man or a woman?
For those who are happy to have been dealt the Venus card, the good news is, now is a good era to be a Filipina.
According to the 2017 Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum, the Philippines is ranked 10th global leader out of 144 countries in terms of gender parity, measured in terms of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. This ranking is by no means a small feat considering that more advanced nations such as France, Germany, the US, Singapore, and other such enlightened economies are trailing behind us.
First, let’s debunk the notion that gender parity means giving opportunities to women just because of their XX chromosomes and estrogen levels. Gender equality calls for negating traditional defining notions of man vs. woman and focusing on individual strengths and talents when it comes to access to opportunities. Parents who are constrained from sending all their children to school because of limited resources should send the most viable child; that is, the one most likely to graduate and make full use of his or her education, be it “Dodong” or “Inday.”
In landing a job or leadership role, it’s not, “May the best man win!” or “May the best woman win!” It’s “May the best candidate win!”
In the corporate world, a good number of Filipinas have succeeded in breaking through the glass ceiling and thriving in their leadership roles.
And if we talk about pioneer Filipina glass-ceiling busters in the male-dominated world of international banking and financial services in the Philippines, the name of Nina Aguas will always be first on the list.
Currently the Executive Chairman of Insular Life Assurance, she spent 30 years in iconic institutions such as SGV, Citibank, and ANZ, reaching the highest leadership roles where she had strong platforms to excel and lead a diverse group of people.
Nina broke another barrier last month when she became the first Filipina to be invited to join the World Bank Group’s Advisory Council on Gender and Development. She is truly at the forefront of championing the Filipina, not just locally, but also internationally.
I had the opportunity to ask Nina about gender dynamics in the Philippine workplace, and she shared interesting anecdotes, especially when she was just starting out.
“To have a brown-skinned Filipina lead a group of people of different races, mostly men, was particularly interesting and fun. While I was traveling with my team, for example, many of their friends whom we would happen to meet at the boarding gates would readily assume I was the Girl Friday. Imagine their look when they find out I was not seating with them in coach, but in first/business class! It still brings a smile.”
That was then.
Nina is happy to cite a 2017 Philippine Statistics Authority report that shows that 46% of senior managers are women as against the global average of 24%. She quickly adds though that “there is still a huge wage discrepancy favoring men in senior positions.”
She proudly shares, “In our company, there is almost a 50-50 ratio in the management team. This is not by design, mind you, but by suitability and competence for the positions relative to the operations of a life insurance company.”
In terms of humanistic leadership, Nina strongly believes in empowerment. “I have been given a lot of opportunities to mentor many women … and men in the capacities I was privileged to have occupied in my entire career. But empowerment is not a one-way street. They learn from me as much as I learn from them.”
When asked about her advice for the Filipina millennial seeking career fulfillment, Nina advises that you don’t have to overstretch and be like a man. “You should celebrate being a woman, being a Filipina. Being women makes it easier for us to show compassion and empathy, [but] not in a negative way; our insights and instincts allow us to read events and circumstances naturally, and these often strengthen a technical decision. Our seeming softness and quieter disposition are our strengths.”
Cheers to harnessing our inherent strengths and closing the global gender gap much, much earlier than the World Economic Forum’s latest forecast of 100 years. It’s time, not to man up, but to HU-MAN up!
Maria Rosario N. Balagot is a Strategic Management lecturer at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. She has spent over 30 years across multinational and local companies in the banking and financial services industry and has recently pursued the joys of being an educator.