Women as Technology Trailblazers: She can do IT, too

Clarisse Dacusin
March 8, 2019

A young woman applies for a job in her field. Graduating Cum Laude with a Chemical Engineering degree, with skills to match her credentials on paper, there is no glaring reason not to hire her.

But like many hiring processes, there is still a chance that she won’t get hired. Maybe someone has a more suitable skill set. Maybe someone has more experience; she is a fresh graduate, after all. Maybe the hiring process was canceled altogether. But none of these was the reason she did not get hired.

“Sorry” said the person interviewing the woman. “We don’t hire female engineers.”

That was 45 years ago. The gifted woman shifted from Chemical Engineering to Information Technology, curated a successful career, and went on to help establish and lead  a world-class IT company that has been in operation for 16 years and counting. She is not only a prominent figure among women in IT, but in the Philippine IT landscape in general.

That woman is Pointwest’s very own President and CEO, Ma. Cristina ‘Beng’ Coronel.

Before reaching the top, women leaders like Ms. Coronel had their own sets of challenges that are not limited to getting hired, but also with being taken seriously as colleagues and leaders. How they surpass these setbacks make them an inspiration to women of all generations. In this regard, Ms. Coronel together with other panelists shared her knowledge during the Filipina STEM Leaders Forum on February 22, 2019, which was organized by The International Labor Organization (ILO).

The Filipina STEM Leaders forum was held as part of the celebration of the International Day for Women and Girls in Science, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) on February 11. Almost a month away from this event is the International Women’s Day and the National Women’s Day celebration on March 8.

Events such as these also shine the spotlight on the remaining struggles not just of women in STEM, but of women carving a career in general. These challenges are further emphasized vis-à-vis the predominantly male landscape of IT workplaces at present. This is also an issue worth raising in the local context.

How are Filipina career women faring nowadays? What is office culture like to working mothers and to young women professionals who may someday plan to balance career and family? By honoring the struggles of Filipina career women, their achievements are further highlighted, and it sparks conversations on how to effectively address the issues.

Pointwest CEO and President Maria Cristina “Beng” Coronel as one of the panelists in the Filipina Leaders in STEM Forum. Photo from International Labour Organization Facebook page.

Filipina Women in the Workplace

The opportunity to be a leader in any field starts with the hiring process. Like in Ms. Coronel’s case, the hiring process may dash a woman’s hope to work in a particular industry. To prevent such discrimination from happening, it will help if gatekeepers of the hiring process will uphold merit-based, equal opportunity employment. After all, the Magna Carta for Women fights against discrimination of any form against women in economic, cultural, social, or any other fields.

The struggles do not stop in the hiring process alone, but in the company culture itself and its stance on gender equality; according to the study done by global employment website monster.com, 51% of responders think gender equality should be one of the top priorities for companies. Some also feel like others have a prejudice on how well they will perform on the role, on account of being a woman. For instance, 19% of working Filipinas feel like they are not taken seriously when talking or presenting ideas, and 20% feel like they are not considered independent enough or self-driven.

Considering this, most women aspire to belong to a culture that fosters a gender-friendly environment for women to succeed in their positions, to be taken seriously, and to eventually be leaders. IT workplaces should likewise not be spared from such a standard.

Pointwest Technologies, helmed by Ms. Coronel, is an example of an IT company that holds to these standards. Supporting the claim is the near-equal percentage of men and women working in Pointwest: 57% are male and 43% are female, which is quite a feat for a company under a male-dominated industry. Additionally, more than half of the digital innovation company’s managers are women.

This led to Pointwest being named as one of the 50 Leading Companies for Women in APEC in 2014.

“We hire based on competencies.”, asserts Pointwest’s Head of Human Capital Management Ms. Ma. Rosario Ahorro on the company’s hiring process.

Balancing Motherhood and Work

A woman can have many titles in her lifetime – a daughter, a wife, a mother and, possibly, a leader. However, there is a certain expectation for women to prioritize family over career, and at times even judgement that comes to those who attempt to balance both; if a woman puts family first, they are perceived to lack professionalism, while if they prioritize work, they are not fulfilling their role for their family.

According to the statistics from monster.com’s study, some Filipinas indeed feel this way. 18% working mothers were questioned about their desire to have children, and 58% cite the struggle to balance demands of work and family as a hindrance to success.

Work-life balance is also an issue. 92% wish for work-life balance. 32% cite a lack of flexible work arrangements as an obstacle, and 37% hope for more flexible work provisions in line with mothers’ responsibilities and needs. The workplace culture can contribute to balancing family and work as 16% wish for building a family-friendly culture to eliminate discrimination and stereotyping.

“I think that there is still that guilty feeling that if you become more of a mother, you become less of a manager. Or conversely, when you’re more of a manager, you are less of a mother,” Ms. Coronel quips in the Filipina Leaders in STEM forum.  “I hope we will change that mindset.”

Filipina Women as Leaders

The bar is raised even higher when being a leader is added on the roster of roles, along with being a mother and a career woman. Unfortunately, some Filipinas feel like they may be missing out on forwarding their careers, as reflected on their responses to monster.com’s survey. Results state that 59% of Filipinas feel like they have less career opportunities because they chose to have a family. Meanwhile, 34% attest to having a lack of opportunities for career advancement and promotions.

This may perhaps be attributed to stereotypes attached to women leaders: 21% have been labelled as too emotional for assertive roles; 31% cite the way they are perceived by colleagues and bosses as an obstacle to success.

Perhaps this may have contributed to why, as Ms. Coronel states, women themselves shy away from leadership positions. It is important for women to learn to assert themselves if they want to be considered for higher management. “And that’s why we make sure that we are able to inspire them, that it’s all right to become leaders.”, Ms. Coronel said.

Women can reach the top of the ladder, especially if the company promotes employees purely on merit basis. In Pointwest, numerous leadership positions are held by women: Company President and Chief Executive Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Finance Officer, and 4 out of 5 of the Business Unit Heads (for Banking and Finance, Healthcare, Supply Chain Management, and Transportation and Lodging).

“We promote based on performance and capability/merits,” Ms. Ahorro said on how people are promoted to more senior positions. This means there is no preferential regard for employment based on being a man or a woman.

Sparking Conversations and Transforming Cultures

Through the promising achievements and despite challenges, more and more women find success as leaders and game changers in IT, just like Ms. Coronel. Along with the 4th industrial revolution, a revolution for women to fearlessly breakout from prejudice may also have been made possible.

The conversation has been sparked —  it is important to continue it and bring it to other avenues. Events such Filipina Leaders in STEM forum cannot be any more relevant. Companies themselves may likewise initiate the dialogue. For example, Pointwest constantly conducts women empowerment programs, focusing on STEM-related skills, leadership, negotiation and persuasion, and other topics to cater for the unique needs of women.

Company initiatives such as Pointwest’s Women Empowerment Program is an avenue to hone skills such as self-confidence, communication, and leadership.

Women in STEM are in a special position to transform and modernize systems. As stated by Ms. Coronel, “My motto is there’s always a better way of doing things. I guess that’s the platform. That’s basically where technology is most of the time. We get to improve things, whether it’s in technical processes or in application systems.” Hopefully, this may also be applied in cultivating a gender-friendly workplace.

Into the Future

A young woman applies for a job. She wasn’t hired because she’s a woman. Instead of sulking, she seized the available opportunities and built a solid career in the industry.

In the future, hopefully women who will suffer the same fate can likewise turn setbacks into golden opportunities. Or better yet, no woman will be barred from the opportunity only by the virtue of being a woman, either as an aspiring employee, a part of an organization, or a leader.

 

Ladies of Pointwest: Pointwest supports you in your quest to be trailblazers. Check out Learning and Development Team’s treat for you this Women’s month!

About Pointwest

Founded in 2003 by pioneers of the Philippine Global Sourcing industry, Pointwest creates value for its list of satisfied clients — including top Fortune 100 and local companies — with world-class digital innovation and IT modernization services backed by international-standard methodologies, and innovative practices.