MANILA – The Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE) was launched in 2017 through a partnership between the Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PhilWEN) and Investing in Women (IW), an initiative of the Australian government. PhiWEN is made up of six women’s groups, all advocating the economic empowerment of women through various initiatives.

One of the motivations to create a business coalition in the Philippines was to pursue workplace gender equality as “the right thing to do”. Starting with seven founding members, the coalition has grown to nine member companies. All of them are large employers and leaders of different industries – retail, real estate, BPO, shipping, direct selling, professional services, insurance, and banking.

Julia Abad

Working with influential businesses has been a strategic decision to inspire and influence their peers, partners and suppliers.

Julia Andrea R. Abad is the Executive Director at the Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment and she was gracious to share some of her insights with the Women Icons Network.
The response to the initiatives of PBCWE thus far?

As of 2019, our member companies have committed over 50 Workplace Gender Equality (WGE) action plans; 24 of these are successfully implemented, reaching 130,000 employees nationwide.

We have pilot offered and trained 280+ participants in eight training courses namely gender 101, board diversity, anti-sexual harassment in the workplace, financial literacy, policy review and enhancement with a gender lens, gender corporate communications, flexible work arrangements, and family leadership program with an overall satisfaction rating of 95%.

PBCWE has also received an overall satisfaction rate of 96% from all member firms, and 94% positive rating on the coalition’s support and overall experience in their EDGE certification process.

The repertoire of activities usually carried out?

PBCWE works with businesses that are large employers to encourage more women to enter, stay, and thrive in the workplace. We operate through the following objectives:

  • Evidence-Based Strategies – PBCWE helps companies establish baselines, gather data, and use this data to create evidence-based strategies to achieve workplace gender equality in their respective organisations.
  • Policy Implementation through Technical Support and Capacity Building – The Philippines’ policy environment is supportive of social and sustainability efforts, which includes WGE as well. Other than working with business organisations committed to diverse and inclusive workplaces, PBCWE is also working with other stakeholders, such as Philippine government agencies and business chambers, to ensure that policies are fully implemented and remain relevant in today’s context from a corporate experience. PBCWE works with different organisations, in the development, public, and private sectors, to influence behaviors and to periodically assess their implementation of these policies, and to ensure that they can achieve the objective of encouraging the entry and advancement of women in the workplace.
  • Organisational Transformation – PBCWE’s primary objective is to help these employers achieve large-scale organisational transformation through benchmarking, policy reforms, and cultural shifts. We also help them by providing services, knowledge products, and by allowing member companies to interact with each other and learn from each other’s experiences.
Are activities primarily employer led ?

Most of the client activities are employer-led, but we are now seeing both women and men employees’ increasing interest while participating in WGE programs. The increasing demand to conduct and organise WGE-related trainings and webinars especially during this crisis is a clear sign of engagement.

Level of awareness among employers and employees on the subject of gender equality

PBCWE’s strategy is to approach and engage the top management and executive board, and the human resources team of the company in institutionalising the Gender Equality in the Workplace advocacy. Leaders, such as CEOs and Managing Directors, are in a position to foster WGE and D&I at all levels of the organisation. These departments are the key drivers of influence in bringing in different perspectives and ways to the employees and the workforce. Leaders have an active and visible role in making sure that the role of gender diversity plays an integral part to drive innovation and business competitiveness.

Key challenges towards achieving gender equality at workplaces in your market?

Since 2016, the Philippines has consistently been regarded as a gender equal country. We ranked among the best in the world, making us the only Southeast Asian Country as part of the Top 10, year after year. Although we made great strides by creating more awareness and participation in the gender equality journey, in 2020, Philippines slipped from 8th to 16th place. The ranking drop was attributed to the wider gap in political empowerment. While we may be doing well in some areas in terms of gender equality, we still have a lot of work to do.

In connection with this, there has been a notion that since the Philippines is already a gender-equal country, many companies and business leaders think or express that gender equality, diversity and inclusion is just a “nice thing” to have. We, in PBCWE, are encouraging companies to embed WGE and D&I into their corporate sustainability and business strategies as it will yield quantifiable and positive results in terms of attracting and sustaining the best talent in the market.

Most significant inequality at the workplace in the Philippines?

Opportunities for women and men to participate in the economy remain unequal, largely because of the disproportionate share of unpaid care work and domestic work they undertake. Data from the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) emphasised that gender gaps in economic participation originate from representations of different roles of men and women that persist across socio-economic context.

The 2018 Labor Force Survey (LFS) says fewer women than men participate in economic activities due largely to unpaid care work: Three out of five women of working age are economically inactive because of unpaid care work, whereas more than half of their men counterparts said that “schooling” is their primary reason for being outside the labor force.

According to the figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), women have a higher functional literacy rate (92% vs 88.7 %) and have higher educational attainment (22% vs 18%).

At the 2nd EDGE Awards

The reality is that there is a great imbalance. PSA Data also confirms that women are highly educated, very much employable, and yet the workforce participation figures are still low.

In addition, a key takeaway from the Women in the Philippine C-Suite Study conducted by PBCWE and the Makati Business Club is that women are more likely to stop working during the peak childbearing age. Women tend to step back during their childrearing life phase, whereas males are expected to step up to increase their financial support for the family.

Are there clear guidelines for companies to work towards better gender representation in their workforce?

Besides large-scale organisational transformation and evidence-based strategies, it is crucial for companies to generate information on a more formal and regular basis and to give greater emphasis on sustainability issues. Being a Philippine coalition, PBCWE is fortunate to be in a country whose policy environment is extremely supportive of WGE.

PBCWE is working with SEC, Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), and other identified policy partners to make sustainability reporting – especially gender reporting – relevant and value-adding as we continue to work together in building a business case for WGE in the Philippine context.

Anything that is unique to your market that impact sthe journey towards achieving the goal of gender equality at workplaces.

Several studies have revealed that companies with high numbers of women representation in the boardroom perform better, profit better, and do better in managing, motivating, retaining, and promoting people. It is worth noting that women in leadership can increase diversity in the top management and lessen gender discrimination throughout the different ranks of management.

In the Women in the Philippine C-Suite Study, the female CEOs shared their first-hand experiences on the different barriers they faced as they rose to the top levels.

The same study found that women and men, despite having similar motivations and aspirations for one’s own career, differ in terms of priorities, and these priorities depend on specific milestones or life stages of women and men.

As the center of excellence in workplace gender equality (WGE) in the Philippines, PBCWE is committed to pursue this advocacy, alongside with women’s economic empowerment (WEE) and diversity and inclusion (D&I), as core strategies for innovation and business effectiveness.