Diversity in the boardroom is a recognized imperative for an effective leadership. Successful businesses recognize that leaders must be composed of dynamic and diverse individuals to prevent groupthink and stimulate healthy exchange of ideas. The boardroom must be constantly permeated with different views and backgrounds if it expects to successfully adapt the business in this era of ever shifting tides and radical changes.

One way of achieving diversity is ensuring that there is sufficient women representation in the boardroom. Unfortunately, according to the 2022 Grant Thornton International Ltd.’s Women in Business research, only 39% of senior management roles in the Philippines are occupied by women. This is a decline from the 48% figure in 2021.

The Philippine population is estimated to be divided evenly between men and women. Women tend to be better educated as an estimated 13.7% of women and only 9.8% of men are college graduates. Business administration is the most popular course for women while criminology is most popular for men. With this data about our population, I would expect that senior management roles would also be a 50-50 split among men and women. Sadly, this is not true.

In our Firm, I observed that there are more women onboarded during the hiring season every year. From 2019 to 2021, 55% of new hires are women. As the new hires climb the corporate ladder, the gender ratio tilts in favour of men. Finally, at the partnership level, it takes a sharp dip with only 25% of partners being women. So, the question for leaders trying to harness women power in the boardroom is what causes the unfavourable tilt?

In an underground matriarchal society like ours, women are not exactly shrinking violets. Gone are the Maria Clara stereotypes. Filipinas have been presidents, vice-presidents, Nobel peace prize winners, captains of various industries and CEOs of multinational companies. We are fortunate to have a myriad of Filipina role models who have tirelessly trailblazed through difficulties and conquered senior management roles. And yet, even with these tiger moms and dragon ladies in all sectors of society, we still suffer from a dearth of women in senior management roles.

Based on my experience, discrimination is not the major cause for the bigger presence of men in the boardroom but rather, self-disqualification. Self-disqualification happens when younger women with high potentials gradually phase themselves out of promotion, opting for less demanding jobs, or finally resigning to move on to “more suitable” jobs with less punishing work schedule.  I have seen this happen with some of our high potential women employees. They would enter the workforce with same, if not more, amount of enthusiasm than their male counterparts. However, some would eventually resign saying “I need more time to take care of our children” or “I want more work-life balance” as their reasons for leaving. This happens quite often, demonstrating that self-disqualification is not a less sinister cause than discrimination as both prevent women from realizing their full leadership potential. The prevalence of self-disqualification means that the work environment was unable to address the needs of women workers and forced them to disqualify themselves from senior management roles.

If organizations want to harness the benefits of diversity that women bring to the boardroom, then they must also understand that women have different needs for them to flourish in an organization. It is the task of the current leaders to identify these needs and address them. Some action points organizations can adopt are:

Discourage stereotypes and encourage participation. Despite women playing crucial roles in the workplace, stereotypes unfortunately persist. This can affect the female employee, the people she works with and her immediate boss. Women are stereotyped as emotional and therefore, prone to temper or emotional outburst. This stereotyping stifles women employees from voicing their opinions and participating actively in group discussions. The more they feel unsafe, the less participative and proactive they become. This silence derails their leadership track as they are mistakenly perceived as unresponsive or lacking original ideas. It is therefore important, for leaders to create a safe working environment where opinions are valued and respected, and women are not stereotyped. Bosses should consciously encourage their female employees by ensuring each person is given airtime to share their ideas. Sometimes, inviting a female employee to share her thoughts is all it takes to unlock those worthwhile suggestions that have been percolating in her mind for some time.

Respect time offs. Leaders must accept that despite advances in technology and science, women still need to devote time taking care of their families. Hence, the work culture should be able to respect “time offs” when women need to unplug and take care of their families. Offering flex-time and work from home arrangements will be useless if management expects their employees to be on call 24/7. Women who take care of their responsibilities in the family should not be interpreted as less interested in being promoted. The need for time offs should also not be construed by management as inability of the women employee to concentrate on their jobs.  Management should look at the quality of output of the employees and not be clock watchers counting the overtime of every employee.

Offer a clear career track. Management must offer clear career track for their high performing female employees. Women are planners. As early as kindergarten, little girls have been planning for major events in their lives be it their birthday parties, their graduation or even their weddings. In the workplace, women need to see that they have a future in their organizations. Leaders should provide an avenue where women are able to visualize their short term and long-term roles in an organization. There should be a looking glass that offers a peek into the possibilities.  In our Firm, we have spoused a culture of coaching and mentoring. The constant dialogue between the coach and the coachee allows the latter to identify short term and long-term objectives. They are able to recognize gaps and learning requirements that will aid in realizing their objectives.

Identify role models within the organization. Leaders must provide clear and convincing examples that women are valued in the organization. Lip service and wall arts emphasizing women empowerment are well and good. But if the same organization does not have real-life empowered women in senior management roles at all, the colorful wall arts might as well be meaningless chicken scratches on walls. Female employees are encouraged if they see women in senior leadership roles as their champions. Management should leverage on the presence of strong roles models who can share knowledge, experience, and network with their younger peers. Sponsoring events where these role models can frequently interact with women employees foster camaraderie and shared experience which increase the credibility of the organization espousing women empowerment.

Harnessing the power of women and bringing them into the boardroom is a challenge still facing businesses today. Without proper support, female talent remains to be an untapped resource. Structural, cultural, and personal changes must be incorporated in the work environment to encourage women to take on much deserved senior leadership roles. Ensuring women representation offers a symphony of ideas and innovation resulting from diversity. More importantly, diversity in the boardroom is not just a token gesture, it is smart business.


As published in The Manila Times, dated 02 March 2022