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By Angela Kiara S. Brillantes, Special Features and Content Writer

According to the World Economic Forum’s “Gender Gap Report 2023,” women representation in the workforce is still lacking. Data showed that while 41.9% of the workforce last year is made up of women, senior leadership roles have decreased to 32.2%, which is almost 10% lower. This emphasizes the need to empower women to take on leadership positions more than ever.

“Recent years have seen major setbacks and the state of gender parity still varies widely by company, industry and economy. Yet, a growing number of actors have recognized the importance and urgency of taking action and evidence on effective gender parity initiatives is solidifying,” the report said.

Whether it’s climbing the corporate ladder or establishing their own businesses, more women are making their mark in the business realm. And as they are given these opportunities to take the lead, they are also paving the way to build more inclusive spaces for work and professional development.

In fact, the latest “Women in Business” report of global counting firm Grant Thornton ranks the Philippines first out of 28 countries in the percentage of women executives. The firm’s survey found that 43.1% of top executives in the country were women. Moreover, this is the third year the country is on top of the list.

Aleli Arcilla, Managing Director of Mondelez Philippines, Inc.

Among these women executives is Aleli Arcilla, managing director of Mondelez Philippines, Inc., a brand known for its snacks as well as its advocacy for healthy lifestyles. In an email interview with BusinessWorld, she shared the unique value brought by women leaders to organizations.

“Women leaders bring a diverse point of view into the table, the ability to continue looking at the big picture, while maintaining an eye for detail greatly helps an organization crystallize the what’s and the how’s of what an organization needs to do to grow, as well as developing an enabling culture that would drive growth,” Ms. Arcilla said.

Ms. Arcilla added that aside from large enterprises, women leadership is also thriving in terms of innovation-driven companies, particularly the tech industry.

“Female-led companies are breaking barriers and become innovative companies especially in the tech industry, as this requires a lot of visioning and an exacting level of detail to deliver products and solutions to consumers,” she said.

Beia Latay, Chief Executive Officer of KonsultaMD

Within the tech space, the Globe Group has grown an “inclusive ecosystem where women not only thrive but also lead with excellence.” Among the group’s women leaders, KonsultaMD Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Beia Latay has been at the helm of transforming the company into a premier telehealth platform that brings healthcare closer to Filipinos. She also believes in the potential of homegrown companies to serve as powerful examples for aspiring leaders.

“I want Filipinas to build more confidence, dream bigger, and aim higher. I hope to inspire future generations of women to pursue careers in healthcare and technology, knowing that their contributions can make a significant difference in the lives of others,” she was quoted as saying in a statement.

A steady progress

This growth in leadership is a result of women’s steady climb to the corporate ladder. Ms. Arcilla, for instance, started out as first level sales representative, after which she rose from the ranks to take more senior roles in the Nutrition Retail Sales industry.

This was followed by taking on brand marketing and commercial roles for big beverage and snacks brands, which gave her profit and loss responsibilities and a critical experience in startup operations. These roles, later on, led her to general management roles in industries such as nutrition, pharmaceuticals, and fast-moving consumer goods.

“I did aspire to be a leader as I rose up the ladder, with my motivation of setting a more defined path for future female leaders that will come after me,” she added.

Jennilyn Uy, President of WalterMart

Jennilyn Uy, president of community mall chain WalterMart, started her journey by working behind the register in one of WalterMart’s stores when she was in her first year of college.

“I remember working in the store as a cashier on weekends and during school breaks in the summer and the holiday season,” Ms. Uy shared in another statement. I rotated across different roles, whether it’s bagging groceries, visual merchandising, or stocking inventory you name it — I was able to do them.”

The 30-year veteran in the food retail industry also recalled her time packing holiday baskets for the Christmas festivities. Entering WalterMart’s management trainee program, Ms. Uy also learned the ropes working in different departments, from accounting to marketing and store setup.

When asked whether she saw herself leading the organization one day, she said it was always a dream job.

Along Ms. Arcilla’s ongoing journey in Mondelez International, where she initially struggled to operate as an end-to-end leader, she learned to leverage her depth of experience and soft skills to work effectively with the other functions, which she may not have had much experience on.

“I would get the best functional leader whom I can rely on, where expectations are set very clearly,” she shared.

She also noted the growing range of responsibilities while climbing up the corporate ladder, as well as the expanding of people and organization challenges to handle.

“The big shift is to think organization, culture, structure versus functional / KPI (key performance indicator) achievement only. The deliverables expand to corporate reputation, product quality, culture, apart from delivering the business and setting an agenda,” she said.

Furthermore, as she took on her leadership role at Mondelez International, Ms. Arcilla realized that leadership can also be a solitary journey, as the company’s global chief once briefed her about.

“That day when the Global CEO and I were on our way to a company dinner, I clearly remember what he said to me: ‘Our company wants to go places and we believe that you have the competency and potential to grow with us. I would like to confirm our intention of appointing you as the GM of the business, but it will be lonely at the top.’”

Having seen for herself how lonely it can be at the top, Ms. Arcilla stressed the importance of a strong support system in taking leadership roles.

“My mentor and leaders of the business gave their confidence on my capabilities and with an aligned ambition, I took the leap. It felt overwhelming and a daunting task, especially since it was a precarious situation, in the middle of a merger where the demands of integration and transition was so high,” she said.

Trust within the organization serves as a motivator for the managing director.

“What keeps me inspired is the trust of the organization, bringing the organization to the next level of growth and fulfill the vision of the company,” Ms. Arcilla shared.

Driving change

As leaders, women are already bringing change into businesses and society. They lead by example and mentor fellow women, inspiring growth and transformation in the industry.

For Ms. Arcilla, the way she is bringing driving change is through role modeling of key behaviors that are expected from a leader, modeling transformative leadership behaviors that inspire growth, and paying it forward by mentoring the leaders of tomorrow.

“One key shift is to synthesize and think in simple terms amidst a complex environment, and removing complicatedness in the way we do things,” Ms. Arcilla explained.

Ms. Latay of KonsultaMD, meanwhile, notes how their group has enabled “a safe space where we can debate openly without fear of judgment.”

“It helps that we’re able to be ourselves. Since there are a lot of women working and leading in the Globe Group, empathy is visible,” Ms. Latay noted.

For WalterMart’s Ms. Uy, aside from making a positive impact in the lives of the communities WalterMart serves, leading the company as a woman executive empowers her to embody empathy.

“And I think treading that journey with my mentors who empowered me to reach my full potential allowed me to feel more connected with our people now,” she added. “We seek to continue providing that same environment where individuals from all backgrounds are encouraged to showcase their best and bring out their utmost potential.”

More opportunities for next leaders

For Ms. Arcilla, strengthening women leadership in business starts with creating more opportunities for women, giving them a strong support system, and addressing existing gender stereotypes within companies.

“It all starts with a vision, create your small milestones so that you know if your vision is turning into reality. Solicit support from people who matter to you, and whom you think will impact your current realities. Advocate for yourself because no one else will,” she advised current and aspiring women leaders.

Ms. Latay, meanwhile, encourages aspiring young women to stay determined in their professional journey and keep an attitude of continuous learning.

“Stay true to your passions, embrace challenges for growth, and push boundaries. Surround yourself with supportive mentors, and never stop learning,” Ms. Latay shared.