OVER the past year and a half, women leaders in the Philippines have become an example of resilience for various sectors of society. 

“The COVID (coronavirus disease) crisis and its disruption has had an impact on how we work together and is a clear invitation for businesses to seize the moment, to rethink practices,” said Luc Véron, the European Union’s (EU) ambassador to the Philippines, at the virtual 2021 Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) Awards. “With gender inclusion at the center of their strategies, it is a fact that companies with higher female representation at the most senior levels deliver better results.”  

The World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report highlighted the Philippines’ progress in narrowing the gender gap in terms of economic participation and opportunities, particularly senior roles in business and leadership. This earned the Philippines a rank of 17th out of 156 countries. 

Organized by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) in the Philippines, We Empower Asia, and the EU, the WEPs Awards on Oct. 15 named those who continue to help close the gender gap. 

Here are the Philippines’ gender equality champions for 2021: 

Leadership Commitment  

  • Champion: Lynette V. Ortiz, Chief Executive Officer of Standard Chartered Bank
  • 1st Runner-up: Nina D. Aguas, Executive Chairman of Insular Life Assurance Company, Ltd.
  • 2nd Runner-up: Rhoda Castro-Caliwara, President and Chief Executive Officer of Executive Genesis Services, Inc.

Gender-Inclusive Workplace 

  • Champion: Procter & Gamble (P&G) Philippines, Inc.
  • 1st Runner-up: Nestle Philippines, Inc.
  • 2nd Runner-up: Accenture, Inc.

Gender-Responsive Marketplace 

  • Champion: BAYO Manila, Inc.
  • 1st Runner-up: Kultura Store, Inc.

Community Engagement and Partnerships  

  • Champion: Shell Companies in the Philippines
  • 1st Runner-up: Fujitsu Global Delivery Center Philippines
  • 2nd Runner-up: BAYO Manila, Inc.

Transparency and Reporting 

  • Champion: Philippine National Bank (PNB)

Youth Leadership (Under 35) 

  • Champion: Cherrie D. Atilano, President and Chief Executive Officer of AGREA Agricultural System International, Inc.
  • 1st Runner-up: Abetina Valenzuela, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Equilife Medical Equipment Supplies & Services, Inc.
  • 2nd Runner-up: David King Em Pangan, Co-founder and Managing Partner of InBestCap Ventures Holdings, Inc

Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Champions 

  • Champion for Community Engagement and Partnerships: Edukasyon.ph
  • Champion for Gender-Responsive Marketplace: Villgro Philippines
  • Champion for Leadership Commitment: Felicitas B. Pantoja, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Coffee for Peace, Inc.

Gustavo Gonzales, the UN’s resident coordinator in the Philippines, stressed the importance of these figures in society: “A large number of women have dropped out of the labor force but, despite the situation, they provide some encouraging news showing again the resilience of women business leaders in the Philippines.” 

As the Gender-Inclusive Workplace champion, P&G’s Philippine unit shared during the ceremony that stories of resilience start with leading by example — through policy.  

“It’s more about promoting and championing industry-leading policies, inclusive programs, and equitable practices,” said Anna Legarda-Locsin, P&G Philippines’ communications director, citing for example the company’s Share the Care policy, which allows at least eight weeks of fully paid parental leave for employees of all genders. 

Inclusive policies must also reflect an openness to self-assess, according to PNB, which won the award for Transparency and Reporting. Since 2018, their annual sustainability report has measured the bank to gender-equal standards by which they form initiatives.  

Leia Michelle Regala-Teodoro, PNB’s corporate communications head, shared their mindset: “Including gender data in our sustainability reporting is important to reflect the level of support and commitment a company has for gender equality.”  

She also added that women make up 25% of PNB’s board, 66% of their total workforce, and 60% of their managers.  

“We’re very proud of this at PNB. We encourage organizations and companies to make a commitment to uphold gender equality by focusing on people’s capabilities and potentials, transcending gender stereotypes,” she said. “You get a larger pool of resources with bigger ideas, especially those that are into social media. If you just limit yourselves to a certain pool, you’ll only have one set of ideas.”  

The keynote speaker for the awarding ceremony, Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo, spoke of the potential of Filipino women to add more to the table — whether in the private or public sector. 

“What our awardees today teach us is that there is a more humane, more effective way to show strength: by nurturing and empowering others, by being compassionate, by channeling quiet and determined courage amidst adversity,” she explained. “Being a women leader has its set of challenges. We ace multiple barriers, long-held cultural dictates, and deeply held prejudices.”  

This is also the belief of Let Women Lead, a crowdfunding initiative launched on Oct. 13, which supports campaigns of female candidates in the 2022 elections.  

First proposed a month prior by Alliance of Women for Action Towards Reform (AWARE) co-founder Solita “Winnie” Collas-Monsod, the initiative allows Filipinos to donate any amount of cash to campaigns of female candidates.  

“Women are underrepresented in society, and that underrepresentation costs the country so much,” said Ms. Monsod in Filipino at the project’s virtual launch. “I’m not saying we remove all the men; what I’m saying is to even out the odds. [Women] are roughly 50% of our population, and in 2019 only 20% of the candidates were women.”  

With Let Women Lead, women in politics will no longer be impeded by lack of financing, she added. The initiative has collected P3 million so far and is currently backing Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel and Leila M. de Lima, senators seeking reelection, along with presidential hopeful Ms. Robredo.  

AWARE also revealed that they plan to make the project a long-term one, in order to help future female leaders beyond the 2022 elections. — Brontë H. Lacsamana