Dear Mr. President and Mr CEO, huge dividends await the Philippines and your company — “$40 billion a year to GDP by 2025 or 7 percent above business-as-usual-GDP” — if there is increased participation by women in the labor force. This is according to a study, “The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in Asia Pacific,” by the McKinsey Global Institute completed in May 2018. Mc Kinsey is a leading global management consulting company.
That is not to say that the Philippines has not made great strides in pushing for equal opportunity for women. It has.
It’s one of the bright spots in the country, despite being led by a President notorious for his rape jokes and anti-women remarks.
The Philippines, according to a World Economic Forum (WEF) report, is one of the most gender equal countries worldwide with equal opportunities on political and economic leadership for men and women.
Ranking 8th in a Global Gender Gap report released December 2018, the Philippines was the only Asian country in the top 10, moved up in ranking from 10th spot in 2017.
The Philippines “is the region’s best performer on women’s participation in professional and technical jobs and in leadership positions,” says the McKinsey study.
But there remains much to be done, especially for women in lower-income households.
“The experience of women in the Philippines still hinges to a marked extent on whether they are wealthy or poor. Women in the upper reaches of the income scale are already close to parity on education, and they have plenty of opportunity to work in technical professions and to rise to senior management positions. But lower-income women still face considerable gender gaps and fewer opportunities.”
More quality jobs for women
ANCX spoke to Kristine Romano about the study’s objectives. “From a purely economic point of view, we were really motivated to find out, is there really a case for this?” said the managing partner of McKinsey in the Philippines. “Because there are advocacies left and right, so let's just take a look at the data and see is if there really is a financial benefit. So we have a thinktank that was looking into it because part of it is just people going, Why should I care? And so I think it is important to show [that] it does matter, it does make a difference.”
And indeed the case is so clearly laid out by McKinsey that policy makers and leaders in both the public and private sector should take heed.
In Asia Pacific, a whopping additional $4.5 trillion of additional annual GDP in 2025 could be achieved by giving women more opportunities.
The recommended five areas for change in Asia Pacific are:
-more quality jobs for women
-addressing women’s underrepresentation in business leadership positions
-improving women’s access to digital technology
-shifting attitudes about women’s role in society and work
-collaborating on regional solutions, in financing and knowledge-sharing
Romano says she was surprised at how well we were doing. “I didn’t realize how far ahead we were in the Philippines. I kind of knew it but seeing the fact, it was fascinating. We do well in labor participation compared to others. Our legal frameworks fare as good, in fact we are in the league of Australia and New Zealand."
“The things we can do more of are the things much more in the control of the company, employers, etc. It’s not like we need to rally and introduce new legislation."
Economic incentives have to be strengthened
Still much remains to be done, especially in the realm of reproductive rights because of a lack of access to contraceptives among women with low income. Here is a summary of the study’s findings and recommendations on the Philippines which need to be addressed to achieve greater parity.
-there are different levels of gender equality across the country because of varying levels of economic development
-there is a big unmet need for family planning; the second highest in the region
-the maternal mortality rate is high, the fourth highest in Asia Pacific
-there is unequal share of unpaid care work
-while female migrant workers increase labor force participation, there are social concerns: 56% of Filipinas working overseas are employed in unskilled jobs
-there is a need to expand the coverage of the anti-sexual harassment law
-despite the high representation of Filipinas in professional and technical jobs, their pay lags behind that of men, they earn 8.5 percent less on average
-there should be increased access and equal provision of family friendly policies in the workplace
-policies to improve gender balance in male-dominated industries need to be introduced
-economic incentives for women to remain in the workplace have to be strengthened
-barriers to young mothers and single parents to join the labor force must be reduced
-there should be more use or financial products to increase economic empowerment for less educated women
-maternal health in rural and isolated areas needs to be improved
But Romano is optimistic, especially where she has the power to push the agenda of gender parity. “The things we can do more of are the things much more in the control of the company, employers, etc. It’s not like we need to rally and introduce new legislation, there are more things we can do that are within our control today and what it takes is a decision to do so.”
The McKinsey study is looking at two key indicators where the Philippines has relative strength on which to build in order to move closer to gender parity: “female representation in professional and technical roles, and financial inclusion.”
The power of role models is so underrated
Sometimes, the barrier exists only in the mind, as Romano has realized—even about herself, accomplished as she is. “I am also discovering that in the Philippines. So it's so fascinating because we're so advanced in so many metrics but the biggest drop off point is CEO minus one and that's CEO level. So we go from, like, if we hit the entry into the workforce there's more women than men, but it drops off to like 3% when you get to C-suite positions. And now that I work with C-suites, a lot of the women will go: ‘No, never ko ‘yang inambisyon.’ Or, ‘You know, I have spent so much time with my career now, I feel like I want to spend more time with family.’ And sometimes I go ‘Are they just being humble?’ I just really want to probe and try to really understand what's behind it. I think that there's really a mindset na parang hanggang diyan ka lang. And then parang, that's enough. I guess part of what fascinates me is you don't know it until you're there. It's not like you're aware na ‘Hey, I'm being held back by this.’ And that's why, again, more women in leadership positions I think will erode this self-imposed barriers.”
Romano, who became the first Filipina to become managing partner of McKinsey two years ago, had similar invisible barriers. She says she never even aspired to be in her position: “At that time there were no women partners in Southeast Asia. Within my circle there was no one. That’s why for me, the power of role models is so underrated, because as soon as my mentor [Singapore’s senior partner Diaan-Yi Lin] became partner, I said, ‘Okay, it's doable.’ So when they asked me to head Manila, I'm like ‘Okay. If she could do it I guess I can.’ If you asked me, ‘What was the biggest barrier to you?,’ I would never have said ‘Oh, because I don't have a role model." But now that I do, I realize it was there. Just her achievements helped me to figure out, if she can make it work in this firm, I can as well.”
These barriers will be tough to break down, adds Romano. “But there is still a perception na, ‘Ay, hindi, yung President or CEO that's more for a guy.’ And it's not spoken, it's not very explicit, but it's there,” Romano confesses.
The consultancy is practicing what it preaches. “I'm actually held to account (by McKinsey) for how well you are recruiting womem, what initiatives are you doing to sponsor women—and our managing partners are very vocal about it. It truly is a prority and it shows in the research that we do. And even internally, the number of campaigns and emails, like on initiatives—every week we have a dashboard for recruiting globally so it shows us, Okay, this region, 3-4% of our recruits are women. If you want to get to a 50% hiring rate, this is not enough.”
To put its message across, International Women’s Day is celebrated in McKinsey offices festooned with purple decor. Workers come to work in purple to show support for a more inclusive and supporting environment for their female colleagues globally.
More stories on women:
Portraits of Kristine Romano by Paul del Rosario
Additional photographs from The McKinsey Global Institute