Feminizing The Boardroom

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Over the past few decades, women’s participation and leadership in corporate boardrooms have been steadily gaining momentum across the globe. Gender equality and women empowerment remain central in the agenda of many organizations around the world.

These issues also remain central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Community Vision 2025 of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Many programs and initiatives have been implemented and continue to be advanced to provide women with equal access to decision-making power as women are widely recognized for their valuable contribution towards economic development, and business growth.

Current data, however, shows that there remains a need to push for more participation of women. Based on data from UN Women, women leaders in Southeast Asia, while occupying important roles in organizations, continue to struggle to break the glass ceiling.

Latest figures show that the share of women managers rose only two percentage points in 20 years (from 39% in 2000 to 41% in 2020), while the share in middle and senior management stands at a much lower 26%. In political governance, women hold 22% of parliament seats, but women ministers are often relegated to leading committees on gender equality and women’s affairs.

The report of UN Women also shows that even though women make up 67% of healthcare workers, the frontline responders to the pandemic, only 11% of chief executive officers in the region’s biggest hospitals are women, and ASEAN’s ministers of health are mostly men. The report further noted that women led only 6% of environment and related ministries in 2020.

The story of Filipina leaders are not far apart their counterparts in Southeast Asia. Historically, the Philippines has been a country with deeply ingrained patriarchal norms and gender biases. Women were often confined to traditional gender roles, limiting their access to education, employment, and leadership positions. However, with changing societal dynamics and a greater focus on gender equality, women are continuously and steadily shattering the entry barriers and emerging as influential leaders in the corporate and political world.

Despite progress, women in the Philippines continue to face several challenges and barriers in reaching leadership positions. The prevalent societal expectations of women as primary caregivers, along with cultural stereotypes, can hinder their career advancement. Additionally, gender bias, unconscious biases, and the lack of networking opportunities often impede women’s access to corporate boardrooms.

Recognizing the need for a more diverse and inclusive leadership, the Philippine government, alongside various organizations and advocacy groups, has taken significant steps to promote women’s participation in corporate boardrooms. The passage of the Magna Carta of Women in 2009 provided a legal framework for gender equality and empowered women to pursue leadership roles. The creation of organizations such as the Philippine Women’s Economic Network and the Women’s Business Council Philippines has further facilitated networking, mentorship, and leadership development opportunities for women.

Many forward-thinking companies in the Philippines have embraced diversity and inclusion as key pillars of their corporate strategies. These organizations understand that diverse leadership teams bring unique perspectives, enhance decision-making processes, and drive innovation. By implementing gender diversity policies, setting targets, and fostering inclusive work cultures, these companies are actively working towards breaking gender barriers in the boardroom.

As a result of forward-thinking inclusive initiatives, there is a steady rise of women leaders in the Philippines’ corporate boardrooms. Women such as Tessie Sy-Coson of the SM Group have broken through traditional gender roles and emerged as influential figures in the business world. Sy-Coson is head of one of the country’s largest conglomerates and has been instrumental in the growth of SM Investments Corp., which now has interests in a wide range of industries, including retail, property, and banking.

Robina Gokongwei-Pe is another top Filipina executive who is at the helm of one of the biggest conglomerates in the Philippines. She is the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Robinsons Retail Holdings, Inc. (RRHI) which values, recognizes, and celebrates the contributions made by women in the entire Gokongwei Group.

The former President and CEO of Sunlife Financial Philippines, Riza Mantaring, is yet another example of an excellent Filipina executive. Mantaring’s dynamic leadership style and commitment to customer-centricity have propelled the company to become one of the leading insurance providers in the country. Her strategic decisions and focus on innovation have contributed significantly to Sun Life’s growth and success.

Cosette Canilao, Aboitiz InfraCapital president and CEO, also exemplifies the Filipina leader making a mark in the business world. With over 20 years of experience in commercial and investment banking, transaction advisory and infrastructure, Canilao was the former head of Standard Bank’s distressed debt business in the Philippines, a former partner of PwC, and was previously the head of the PPP Center in the Philippines where she played a key role in the country’s infrastructure development and delivery.

Another woman leader that cannot be easily ignored in shattering the glass ceiling is the current Shell Philippines President and CEO Lorelie Quiambao-Osial — the first woman CEO of Shell in the Philippines. Osial has brought a keen focus on value and has established high performing, diverse teams who have built a strong sense of community and motivation even in times of transition and change.


Women leaders in top Philippine companies bring a distinct set of skills and qualities to the table, contributing to the overall success of their organizations. Some key aspects that set them apart include:

Empathy and Collaboration: Women leaders often exhibit strong empathetic skills, enabling them to understand and connect with diverse stakeholders. This empathy fosters collaboration, teamwork, and inclusive decision-making, creating a harmonious work environment where all voices are heard.

• Relationship Building: Women leaders excel in building strong relationships, both within and outside their organizations. Their ability to establish trust and rapport is crucial for nurturing a positive workplace culture and fostering fruitful partnerships.

• Transformational Leadership: Women leaders often adopt a transformational leadership style, inspiring and motivating their teams to achieve excellence. They empower their employees, encourage creativity, and promote personal and professional growth.

• Diversity and Inclusion Advocacy: Women leaders serve as role models, advocating for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. They recognize the value of diverse perspectives and actively promote equal opportunities for all, driving positive change within their organizations and society.

The presence of women leaders in top Philippine companies has proven to be instrumental in driving business performance. Research consistently indicates that companies with diverse leadership teams outperform those with less diversity. Women leaders bring fresh insights, alternative problem-solving approaches, and a focus on long-term sustainability. Their inclusive leadership styles foster employee engagement, innovation, and customer satisfaction, ultimately leading to enhanced business outcomes.

The rise of women leaders in top Philippine companies is a testament to the progress being made towards achieving gender equality and empowering women in the workplace. These trailblazers are breaking barriers, challenging traditional norms, and paving the way for future generations of women leaders. Their distinct roles in management, characterized by empathy, collaboration, and transformational leadership, have positively impacted business performance and workplace culture.

As more companies embrace the value of gender diversity, the contributions of women leaders will continue to shape a more inclusive and prosperous corporate landscape in the Philippines.

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