The days of women being expected to just stay at home to cook, clean, and take care of children are long gone, and rightly so.
Admittedly, we remain quite a ways off from truly closing the gap between sexes in terms of employment. 2017 numbers from the Philippine Statistics Authority indicate that across various industries, employed men outnumbered employed women by about 10 million.
Still, it is not unheard of for women to participate, thrive and even excel in previously male-dominated fields.
Wonder women in the workforce
Based on the latest available data, approximately 15,973,000 women in the Philippines were employed in 2017, with more than half of them in wholesale and retail (4,761,000), agriculture (2,251,000), and other service activities (2,033,000).
In contrast, only 125,000 were reported to be employed under professional, scientific, and technical activities, which include engineering, computer systems design, and scientific research and development industries.
However, major changes are on the horizon for employment needs across the world — and the Philippines is no exception.
"Over the next two decades, technological advances including cloud technology and robotic process automation will significantly change jobs and enterprises in the Philippines,” stated Linartes Viloria, the National Project Coordinator of the Women in STEM Workforce Readiness and Development Programme in the Philippines of the International Labor Organization (ILO).
This convergence of existing and emerging physical and digital technologies (including but not limited to artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and cloud computing) is commonly referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
According to the ILO, nearly half of employment in the Philippines (around 18 million jobs) may be affected by this movement, particularly menial jobs that do not require soft skills or a STEM background. As women are predominantly employed in such industries, ILO estimates that they are 140\% more likely than men to lose their jobs due to automation.
Thus, in the face of the Fourth Industrial Revolution — a potential threat to a significant chunk of the employed female sector in the Philippines — a sensible course of action would be to equip women in the workforce with vital soft and technical skills for various STEM fields.
This particular topic was the primary focus of the Filipina STEM Leaders Forum held last February 22 at the J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. offices in Taguig.
Filipina STEM superwomen
The forum, which belatedly celebrates the United Nations’ International Day of Women and Girls in Science, featured four female figureheads in Philippine STEM industries: Aileen Judan-Jiao, the President and Country Manager of IBM; Ambe Tierro, the Senior Managing Director for Global Artificial Intelligence of Accenture Technologies; Ma. Cristina 'Beng' Coronel, the President and CEO of Pointwest Technologies; and Michie Ang, the Founding Director of the Manila division of the global non-profit organization Women Who Code.
The four women shared their individual stories of getting into STEM, as well as the various challenges they had to overcome along the way. In the cases of Judan-Jiao, Tierro, and Coronel, they had to find a balance between their professional duties and their responsibilities to their own families.
“It’s about competency; it’s about how you deal with the challenges in your work,” said Judan-Jiao, who shared her observations in relation to standard recruitment questions. “It’s not because you’re married, or you’re a single mom[...] It’s the way you address [your situation].”
On the subject of addressing the under-representation of Filipina women in STEM, particularly in high-level management, Ang said that in addition to training sessions geared towards technical skills, Women Who Code also holds events that focus on helping women develop the soft skills necessary to move up the ladder, such as public speaking and leadership training.
“We have to teach them that it’s okay to negotiate your salary, it’s okay to negotiate your time-off, to negotiate with your company to bring you to a conference[...] because most women are afraid to just ask for it,” explained Ang.
Meanwhile, Tierro shared that when she started out, she found the lack of women in STEM to be discouraging. “When you go to conferences and you’re the only Asian woman, you’re afraid to talk. You’re even afraid to raise your hand because, ‘Oh my gosh, they will remember me — I’m the only girl! If I say something stupid, obviously they will remember me!”
This highlights the need for more role models for women in STEM industries. “Having role models is very important,” stresses Ang, “so that more girls can see that ‘Hey, I can do it, too.’”
As for women becoming leaders in STEM fields, Coronel affirmed that it is a two-way street. While companies should give enough chances for female employees to rise above the ranks, women should also be more assertive and exhibit the desire to advance their careers in their respective organizations.
Indeed, among the biggest takeaways from the forum was that to truly empower women to succeed in STEM industries, a mindset change alongside the emergence of STEM figureheads to inspire women must take place.
“That’s where the problem lies,” revealed Coronel, adding that while organizations can provide opportunities for women to grow into senior leadership roles, it is entirely up to the women themselves to grab said opportunities.
“And that’s why we make sure that we are able to inspire them, that it’s all right to become leaders.”
Empowerment for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Ultimately, both the panelists and the audience agreed that to facilitate the shift towards more women workers and leaders in STEM, the following factors must be present: the right policies and operational environment, a safe working space, ample opportunities for learning, and “equal pay for equal work of equal value.”
Without a doubt, possessing the necessary technical skills will go a long way towards achieving that last factor. As Tierro emphasized: “Digital fluency is a powerful equalizer.”
For its part, the ILO has been partnering with local government agencies such as the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), as well as institutions like J.P. Morgan Chase, to hold boot camp trainings exclusively for women to develop skills for the ever-growing Philippine IT sector.
“[Women] should get their fair share as the world moves to high-skilled STEM jobs,” emphasized Khalid Hassan, Director of the ILO Country Office for the Philippines, in an official statement.
“It is time to close the gender gap by educating girls and empowering working women to advance in their careers and to help them gain access to decent work.” — LA, GMA News