Making Strides in Traditionally-Male Dominated Industries

As part of the celebration of Women’s Month, Asia Society Philippines, together with Acceler8 Coworking, were proud to present Asia Society Conversations: Leading Women, which featured strong female personalities across different traditionally male-dominated industries over beer and pizza. Anna Green (CEO of ANZ Banking Group Philippines), Maan Hontiveros (Chairperson of Philippines AirAsia, Inc.), Elizabeth Lee (President and Co-founder of EMotors, Inc.), and Myla Villanueva (Founder and CEO of MDI Group) are four highly accomplished women in the fields of banking and finance, aviation, automotive, and technology, respectively. The esteemed panel gave deep insights about the challenges and advantages of being a woman throughout their lives leading up recent time.


Before the panel discussion, guest speaker Georgina Hernandez-Yang, head of the Advocacy and Anti-Poverty Programs Unit of the Office of the Vice President, shared her thoughts about the many challenges women of today face. She acknowledged that, despite women making strides in society, they face many socially ingrained biases that need to be constantly addressed by all. As she shared about her time working at the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Hernandez-Yang mentioned how men she dealt with from the private sector inherently struggled to treat her as an equal. “I would even bring male colleagues with me to negotiations just to build better rapport,” she told the audience. However, she ended by reassuring the women in the audience of the bright future ahead if people continue to work hard and in cooperation to achieve the goal of true equality.


After Hernandez-Yang spoke, the panel discussion moderated by Lala Rimando began. Each panelist started by sharing stories and a few anecdotes about their individual experiences, which gave some insight about the challenges of being a woman. Being mistaken for a secretary at a board meeting or being asked to pick a senior partner’s laundry up were stories that, albeit humorous, gave real perspective about how women are treated in certain industries. Additionally, the speakers were in consensus about the unconscious biases that many people, especially men, have about women and their preconceived roles in society, which affects the way they are treated.


The panel went on to discuss how the challenges women face can also work to their advantage. “Women have experiences which help make unique products that emanate the female’s mind,” Elizabeth Lee mentioned. She elaborated by explaining how a woman’s attention to detail and her ability to look at the uses of a product laterally become a strong tool for marketing certain products.


Myla Villanueva pointed out that being a woman, especially in the world of technology, draws a lot of attention that is useful for branding and thinking differently from the industry norm. She recalled her own experience and how her peers were amazed by her in-depth knowledge of contemporary complex technology. “There’s nothing more interesting than a woman who can talk tech,” she said, as the crowed grinned in agreement.


When asked by an audience member about what to do when feeling emotional, the panel advised that that the best thing to do is to recognize strong emotions and channel them into something productive, turning them into passion. “I need to acknowledge it before it has an impact on the day-to-day of my work environment. Being aware of it really helps in dealing with people,” said Anna Green. “You have to conduct yourself calmly, because people expect you to be emotional as a woman,” Maan Hontiveros said affirmatively. They all agreed that emotional maturity allows for more pragmatic decision making, which is beneficial for the company as a whole.


The lessons from the evening are applicable to any individual of any gender. The ability to look at difficult circumstances and face them head on is a skill that all people should have, and that women are a great example of. The insights from the panelists gave a down-to-earth perspective for what it means to be leading women in the world today. There was a sense of empowerment in the air when the program had ended, and the evening felt like the perfect way to mark the end of Women’s Month.