Women, what’s next?
A couple of weeks ago, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) and the Filipina CEO Circle organized a forum entitled, “Women Next: Accelerating tomorrow to now.” The half-day event brought together the country’s top business leaders, innovators and disruptors to help women fast-track their careers and their journey to leadership positions. We had almost 2,000 attendees from various industries, holding equally diverse positions in their respective organizations, each with a unique career goal or concern that would have no doubt influenced their choices among the 12 breakout sessions available that afternoon.
If anything, this tells you how significant a role women play in the workforce and how committed they are to their professional development.
Right off the bat, though, it became clear that at least in the Philippines, many women no longer bother with questions such as, “Am I as good as (or even better than) the opposite sex?”, or “Is there a place for me in the professional world?” All three speakers on our panel discussion – SM Investments Corporation Vice Chair Tessie Sy-Coson, Makati Medical Center CEO Rose Montenegro, and Teach for the Philippines CEO Clarissa Delgado – acknowledged that their gender never got in the way of their professional advancement, nor did it figure in their career choices. Just like everyone else, they banked on hard work, perseverance and a bit of luck to succeed.
And just like everyone else, they are keeping a close eye on developments in technology that could wipe out certain jobs currently being performed by humans.
More than gender differences, what’s preoccupying our speakers is the growing influence of artificial intelligence (AI). Right now, next-generation robots, which we wrote about in this space just a couple of weeks ago, are already working in banks, hotels, and retail stores, able to interact with humans and even recognize emotions.
Sy-Coson, in particular, admitted she is always looking for something else to do in anticipation of the day when she “might be irrelevant” due to AI. Those are strong words from the head of one of the country’s largest conglomerates, and I hope the attendees heeded it. Although technology is a powerful enabler, especially for women who may have small businesses but are looking to reach a broad market, it is also quickly and constantly changing the way we work and the skills we need to develop.
In light of this dynamic environment, it was fitting that one of the breakout sessions focused on the future of work and how women could reinvent themselves to stay relevant.
Emma Imperial was a politician’s wife dedicated to her family and her husband’s constituents when she stumbled upon her current calling – that of a real estate developer in the low-cost housing sector. Chit Juan was already an established figure in the local coffee scene when she found herself shifting gears to run a social enterprise. Both these women walked away from the familiar to try something completely new.
They had important advice for the attendees, which I think would resonate with women even more now when technology and globalization are opening up so many doors and breaking down barriers: If you want to reinvent yourself, you have to have a plan and you have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone. They stressed the importance of thinking things through, instead of jumping immediately into the unknown, to better realize the full potential of your ideas.
Juan, in particular, talked about traveling great distances and roughing it in small barrios just to reach Filipinos who were making world-class products, but had neither the network nor the wherewithal to bring those products to a wider market. Imperial talked about the sense of fulfillment she gets when she hands a family the keys to their new, energy-efficient homes: Imperial may be the only low-cost housing developer in the country who installs rooftop solar systems on all her homes, significantly reducing the monthly electricity costs of the homeowners.
Perhaps this is the next frontier for the professional Filipino woman. She no longer has to worry about carving out space for herself in the business world, since she has long been recognized as an important and invaluable member of that community. But this country can always use more people who are just as focused on the bottom line as they are on the social good. As Imperial and Juan have shown, it is possible for a business to prioritize both and succeed. All you need is the courage to start and the strength to power through the challenges – characteristics that Filipinas have in spades.
The other breakout sessions were: Grit and the Power of Persistence; He for She: Male Champions, Male Allies; The Art of Politics (Rules of the Playground); Leadership Disrupted: Creating Innovation; Executive Presence (Life Beyond the Bag); Bring Your Best Game – The New F Word and the Challenges of Change; Networking to Where You Want to Go: Building the Relationships You Need to Succeed; Gender Agenda; The World is Your Oyster (Global Mindset); Sharpening the Saw: Investing in Me; and Striking a New Balance: The Filipina in Today’s Workplace.
The author is the Audit leader of Navarro Amper & Co., the local member firm of Deloitte Southeast Asia Ltd. – a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited – comprising Deloitte practices operating in Brunei, Cambodia, Guam, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.