Digital Reporter

In selecting your college course, you might have been advised by your titas and titos to choose based on your gender. Engineering is for boys, hotel and restaurant management is for girls. Architecture is for boys, fine arts is for girls. Computer science is for boys, marketing is for girls. They will claim that their advice is well‑meaning. It’s just easier to get a job that way.

Audrey Pe, the 16 year‑old co‑founder of Women in Tech (WiTech), isn’t taking this as is. The headstrong young woman, along with WiTech members from high schools and colleges across the country, has made it a point to introduce female role models to future tech leaders. WiTech started as Pe’s blog, where she interviews successful women in the technology sector from all around the world. Now WiTech reaches out to students as well, through its first, fully‑packed WiTech Convention last March 3 at Accenture, Bonifacio Global City.

“I was interested in coding at an early age,” Pe told SparkUp at an interview at an Ortigas café last month. “But there’s a lack of role models in tech, especially women in tech. Looking online, I saw that there was a huge gender gap, women are paid less.”

She met with like‑minded young women during a youth hackathon, and WiTech became more than just her blog. It became an organization mission “to inspire women from all around the world to pursue careers in tech, and use their abilities to make a difference in society.” Because the reality is—despite the Philippines’ high ranking in the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap report—we still live in a country that has a stigma against women in power, and where politicians and entertainers can get away with saying the most sexist things.

“We need to break the stigma that feminism is just for women, because in reality we need both genders to work together to make a difference,” Pe said. And with more empowered young men and women working together, this change can affect a growing field in business—the startups.

The Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE), a business organization made up of companies with a large employee base that are dedicated to promoting gender equality in all aspects of their business, isn’t working directly with startups. Instead, the Australian Government‑funded initiative (through the Australian Embassy’s Investing in Women program) is assisting these companies in getting their EDGE Certifications. Recognition from the Swiss‑based international organization means that a company has equal opportunities, pay, recruitment measures and training measures for men and women, as well as flexible work hours. As of March 5, Ayala Land Inc. (ALI) and Convergys are the first two Philippine companies to be EDGE‑certified, as well as being the first real estate company and business process outsourcing (BPO) enterprise, respectively, in the EDGE’s roster.

This does not mean that they do not see the value in starting early as opposed to later in a company’s life. PBCWE executive director Julia Abad, in an interview with SparkUp at the sidelines of the March 5 awarding ceremony, said gender equality is for every company, new or old.

“It makes good business sense,” Abad said. According to a 2016 study by Washington‑based think tank Peterson Institute for International Economics, which looked at around 22,000 firms in 91 countries, companies that have an executive roster of at least 30% women can rake up as much as 6% more in profits. Female corporate leaders can boost a company’s performance, thus it’s beneficial to provide equal opportunities to women in a company’s growth.

While you can’t really select who you’ll have that nice startup chemistry with, you can choose who you hire. And that’s a good start in promoting a gender‑equal workplace. It doesn’t mean that you should strictly hire an equal amount of men and women in your budding company. “What’s important is breaking gender stereotypes,” Abad explained. “Make sure that no task is limited to one gender.”

“In recruitment, you can start by removing gender stereotypes—for example, when people think finance is for women and tech is for men—and focus on competencies,” she added. To combat unconscious gender bias, she suggested removing the names or covering the names when looking at potential employees’ CVs.

She also shared that as a parent, and as someone who studies the work conditions of women, flexible work hours are a huge consideration for female job‑seekers. It means having the time to check in with family, to pick up your child from school, and to do chores. While those are considerations that men might also have, our society still delegates those roles to women.

“Right now we’re working with companies on developing best practices,” Abad said on PBCWE’s plans. And who knows? Maybe these best practices, when developed, can be used by startups too. She cited Accenture as a company that has a training module on building inclusive growth across genders.

Knowledge and abeyance of the law can also help startups in establishing gender‑equal businesses. “The Philippines has very good laws when it comes to gender equality,” said Abad. “If we implement these well, we can go a long way.”

With young women like Pe working at the school level and organizations like the PBCWE working on the corporate level, there’s definitely an encouraging environment for startups to step up and embrace a gender‑equal workforce.