By Brontë H. Lacsamana 

Businesses of all sizes can and should contribute to gender parity initiatives. “Too often, SMEs [small and medium enterprises] are ‘frightened’ of the larger gender equality advocacy due to the scale of finance, logistics, and strategic planning associated with it. In our observation, these advocacies need not be complex,” said Ma. Aurora “Boots” D. Geotina-Garcia, co-chair of the Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE), via e-mail. 

The annual Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) Awards, held by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) in Asia-Pacific, is accepting nominations for the 2021 competition and inviting companies of all sizes to be signatories. 

There are 51 Philippine-based signatories to the WEPs so far, with eight of them having 10 or fewer employees. Twelve have 11 to 50 employees, including last year’s Youth Leadership winner, the public-private startup platform QBO Innovation Hub. 

“The awards were an amazing opportunity for QBO, a young startup, to network with established organizations that share our vision,” said Katrina R. Chan, the Executive Director of the small enterprise, in a press release, “Attaining this recognition raises our profile around the efforts to ensure equal gender representation in tech becomes the norm.”  

The Gender-inclusive Workplace category in the WEPs Awards, which PBCWE is presenting along with the Australian initiative Investing in Women (IW), will focus on those that have concrete gender parity efforts, including equal recruitment and pay, and the promotion of women’s career development and leadership. 

“We know improving performance in gender equality is linked with positive business outcomes,” said Dr. Julia Newton-Howes, IW chief executive officer, in a statement. “Recognizing the work some companies are doing towards workplace gender equality will demonstrate the benefits this brings such as better risk management, greater innovation, and increased profitability.” 

The objective of this year’s WEPs Awards is to recognize businesses persevering towards a more gender-inclusive economic recovery from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, according to the competition’s press release.  

The Philippines is one of the most gender-equal countries in the world, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, which placed the country 17th out of 156 countries.  

Meanwhile, the 2021 Female Opportunity Index, published this July by the digital bank N26, ranked the Philippines 41st out of 100 countries in terms of gender parity in the workplace. 

“We are also one of the few countries that has closed at the same time its gender gap in senior roles and in professional and technical roles,” said PBCWE’s Ms. Geotina-Garcia. “This is an important milestone for the private sector.” 

The Female Opportunity Index also showed the Philippines placing 37th in terms of women in management. However, based on salary level and wage gap, the country ranked 66th, leaving room for improvement when it comes to equal pay. 

“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Ms. Geotina-Garcia, citing a 2019 study on women in managerial positions done by PBCWE and the Makati Business Club that showed that women are more likely to stop working during their childbearing age. “Women tend to step back during their childbearing life phase, whereas males are expected to step up to increase their financial support for the family.”  

The progressive leave policy of Accenture in the Philippines was included in PBCWE’s 2019 study as an example of best corporate practices in handling gender diversity. The consulting company implemented 30 days of paternity leave to encourage equal distribution of responsibilities for couples even before the passage of the Philippines Expanded Maternity Leave Law, which allowed mothers to transfer seven of their 105 paid-leave days to the child’s father. 

The study also focused on the state of women in the executive level of corporations: it found that while 95.1% (103 female respondents) are confident in their skills, education, and leadership potential, they rated their suitability for leadership roles lower when asked to consider a career upgrade or immediate elevation to a top role. 

More recently, the UN Women and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) documented similar efforts in their 2020 report on corporate practices that support gender equality in the face of COVID-19. One of these is Filipino company Insurance Life’s “Sheroes program”, which develops online content advising women how to maintain physical, psychological, and financial well-being in the pandemic. 

Progress towards gender parity, however, has been stalled in many economies during the pandemic. “[This is] partly due to women being more frequently employed in sectors hardest hit by lockdowns, combined with the additional pressures of providing care at home,” said Ms. Geotina-Garcia. 

On a larger scale, the field of gender lens investing (GLI) in the country has also been active. Global social enterprise Value for Women’s case study on the Manila Angel Investors Network Inc. (MAIN) showed how the investment group, founded by men, did not start out with a gender lens. MAIN only shifted focus and partnered with IW three years into its existence. 

“I think all Filipina women would invest in more women,” an unnamed female MAIN member shared for the study, on the topic of woman investors, “They would understand there’s a need for that (product) and they’d be more empathetic to the woman entrepreneur’s experience.” 

Like MAIN, businesses and organizations may not deliberately set out seeking to empower women, but end up doing so over the course of their lifetime. 

Consider solar energy company Upgrade Energy Philippines, Inc., a WEPs-signed small enterprise that is 70% women, including engineers, with 60% of the management being women as well. 

“This was not deliberate to start with,” said Ruth Yu-Owen, Upgrade Energy president and co-founder of the tech entrepreneur community Connected Women, at the 2021 WEPs Awards info session about how women are naturally taking the forefront. “What does it tell us? It just happened because women are equally qualified engineers, managers, and leaders in an industry dominated by men.” 

Business, companies, and enterprises of any size, including subsidiaries of multinationals and their branches, industry associations, stock exchanges, and chambers of commerce of eligible countries  a very broad and inclusive scope  can apply to the WEPs Awards.  

“The WEPs provide a framework for all businesses to guide their work towards gender equality regardless of size, sector, industry, or location,” said UN Women Philippines Program Manager Ma. Rosalyn G. Mesina, during this year’s information session. 

“If you’re sitting on the fence, just go for it,” said Ms. Yu-Owen of Connected Women, “You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so I highly encourage everyone to join the WEPs awards and sign the WEPs. It makes good business sense to do so.” 

The 2021 WEPs Awards will accept nominations until July 31. The National WEPs Awards ceremonies in the Philippines will be hosted by WeEmpowerAsia in October.