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Cracking the (lady) boss code

Some of the most successful women in corporate Philippines today come together to uplift the status, and spirits, of Filipina leaders of the future

Images by Noel B. Pabalate

Video by John Alvin Veri and Angelo Alejandro

WOMEN ON TOP From left: FCC’s Sharon Dayoan, Agnes Gervacio, and Cristina Concepcion are out to increase the number of women CEOs in the country

WOMEN ON TOP From left: FCC’s Sharon Dayoan, Agnes Gervacio, and Cristina Concepcion are out to increase the number of women CEOs in the country

As women, no matter where we are in the world, at whatever stage of our lives, we repeatedly hear about what we need to do. Or what other people expect us to do. How we need to behave, what is appropriate for us to wear, opinions we best keep to ourselves, what is seen as too much or not enough, the acceptable number of selfies we’re allowed to post on Instagram, the socio-cultural politics of what society considers appropriate for us and for our lives. When in fact, the most important questions a woman can—must—only ask herself are simply “What do I want?” “Who do I want to become?” “How am I going to do it?”

In a country ranked as the ninth most gender-equal nation in the world, which had elected two women Presidents; and has a sizeable storehouse of female icons, heroes, luminaries—even in the typically male-dominated fields of engineering, aeronautics, automotive, analytics, among others, you’d think Filipinas have this whole empowered woman arc down pat. And we do, until we reach a crossroad in life where we have to choose between starting a family, advancing a high-powered career, or doing both.

Some will rise to the challenge and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them. Others, from fear of following a wrong path, will get stuck, unable to move forward, backward, or sideways. Still, others will just quit. These are all especially true in the corporate world, at the executive level, inside boardrooms. This is why in a recent survey conducted by KPMG R.G. Manabat & Co., among the top 1,000 corporations in the Philippines, very few were led by women.

“Of the top 1,000, we called 770 and only 68 are led by women. Clearly there is a need for more,” says KPMG vice chairman Sharon Dayoan. This “disturbing statistic” drove Dayoan, Convergys Philippines chairman Marife Zamora, and NEC president Agnes Gervacio to form the Filipina CEO Circle (FCC), a group of 43 female CEOs in the country with the aim to uplift and empower young corporate women and even undergraduate students to dream big, define success their way, and hold the line for the next generation of women leaders. “There is no other organization in the country today whose sole mission is to really move the Filipina corporate woman, up to the top ranks of their companies,” says FCC president  Cristina Concepcion.

CEOS WITH A MISSION From left: Ace Itchon, Rac Cagurangan, Agnes Gervacio, Ayhee Campos, Karen Batungbacal, Sharon Dayoan, Susan Dimacali, Cristina Concepcion, Karen Roa, Marivic Añonuevo, Rosario Bradbury, Marites Dagdag, Valerie Pama, and Pat Cortez

CEOS WITH A MISSION From left: Ace Itchon, Rac Cagurangan, Agnes Gervacio, Ayhee Campos, Karen Batungbacal, Sharon Dayoan, Susan Dimacali, Cristina Concepcion, Karen Roa, Marivic Añonuevo, Rosario Bradbury, Marites Dagdag, Valerie Pama, and Pat Cortez

Balancing act

“Only 68 women CEOs out of 770, why is that so? When many of the male CEOs’ support in the organization—VP sales, VP marketing, VP HR, regional managers—would be women. Somewhere along the way, Filipinas don’t seem to be breaking the glass ceiling. We started FCC to help them find their path to leadership. We want to tell them, show them, that they don’t have to give up their career goals to prioritize other things,” Dayoan says.

These “other things” are of course starting a family and raising children. Because most Filipinas sometimes think they need to give up their careers for their family. “I’ve gone through that. Sometimes you get to a point in your life when you question yourself, tama pa ba ito? Tama pa ba oras ko sa osipina? But I think it doesn’t have to be that way,” Dayoan adds. Because there can be a middle ground to have a happy family and a successful career, but, according to the Lady Bosses of FCC, you would need all the help you can get from a solid  support network.

“I believe that a great support system makes this balancing act work. For those of you who are married or with partners, make sure that your partner has the same goals and priorities as you do, because otherwise, it will cause a lot of stress in your relationship. Find a partner who is willing to treat you as an equal and who will do his fair share. And don’t forget yourself. Because you can’t be a part of a whole if you’re not whole yourself,” says Sun Life Financial Philippines president/CEO and FCC member Riza Gervasio Mantaring.

Inspiring others

FCC narrowed down on corporate women who rose from the ranks through meritocracy or getting rewarded based on an employee’s output. “Starting at employee level and then moving your way up an organization, we think, have a different set of challenges versus when you’re an owner or a child of an owner,” the group says.

Over the past year, FCC has participated in the Legacies of Women Forum in partnership with Global Summit of Women and AIM, supported the Solar Lola Project of the Diwata-Women in Resource Development, conducted Inspired Conversations in partnership with Technological Institute of the Philippines, at the BPO International’s Future Leaders Conference, with IBM’s equality and women empowerment agenda during International Women’s Day, and in Infosys IBPO Philippine Women’s Week Leadership Forum.

But the FCC forum “Inspired Conversations: From the NOW Gen to the NEXT Gen” was, by far, the group’s most significant initiative. Held recently at Shangri-La at The Fort, over 1,000 mostly women managers attended the forum, which serves as a bridge from one generation of CEOs to the next.

“Nowhere else will you find this number and this caliber of women leaders gathered in one event, sharing their journey, driving the conversation, and disrupting mindsets. With topics as wide-ranging as Grit, Executive Presence, The Heart of Giving Back, and Women Leaders of the New Economy,” Concepcion says.

Another highlight of the forum was the unveiling of Inspired, a collection of stories and life lessons of FCC’s active members, a sort of a directory of Filipina CEOs with an intimate look into their personal journeys to success—from the secretary’s desk to the boss’ chair, from sitting in front of a telephone board to conducting a meeting in the company boardroom, from a medical representative to a multi-awarded CEO of a global pharmaceutical company.

“As CEOs, we are not at the end of our careers, we’re simply just beginning. We continue to aspire every day, continue to aspire for greater things. But I think one of the things that we all hold dear in our hearts is the hope that we are able to inspire other women to find a tremendous possibilities within themselves and to realize how truly, truly remarkable they are,” Concepcion ends.