ILO celebrates #GirlPowerinTech with first Filipina STEM Leaders Forum

Seeking to inspire and encourage more women to break barriers as they take the path towards STEM learning and careers, the International Labour Organization (ILO) with the support of JP Morgan Chase Foundation and in cooperation with the Embassy of the United States in the Philippines and American Spaces-Philippines, successfully held the first Filipina STEM Leaders Forum – an event that featured the achievements of four distinguished Filipina leaders in the IT-BPM sectors and how their triumphs in life and career proved #WomenCanDoIT.

Aside from inspiring the participants, the forum, was a timely celebration of the International Women’s Month and which also marked the UN International Day of Women and Girls in STEM – underscored the need and call for more equal opportunities for women in Science and Technology.

Present to signify their solid support for the need for more women to be involved in STEM-related industries are the ILO’s key partners from private organizations and government institutions. Among them are Carlos Ma. Mendoza, Head of Banking and Deputy SCO of J.P. Morgan Philippines; Deputy Director General Rosanna Urdaneta from the Office of the Deputy Director General for Policies and Planning of TESDA; Undersecretary John Henry Naga from the Office of the Undersecretary for Management and Operations of the DICT; Ola Almgren, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations; and Philip Roskamp, Public Affairs Counselor of the Embassy of the United States in the Philippines.

In his welcome speech, UN Resident Coordinator Ola Almgren congratulated the proponents and partners of the program, at the same time called on for long-term change and for more role models for women as the struggle for gender equality remains.

“The goal of the program and our goal as an international development community is to get more girls and women interested, trained, graduated and employed in the future of work in STEM…unfortunately, and inspite of the very best concerted efforts of the global community to engage more girls and women in Science and Technology, the truth is that girls and women still remain underrepresented in these areas, so more clearly need to be done,” he said.

For his part, Carlos Ma. Mendoza, Head of Banking and Deputy SCO of JP Morgan Chase & Co., reiterated the organization’s support for the ILO initiative.

“Our model for growth and impact means removing barriers to opportunities and opening new pathways to success for all. JPMorgan’s support for the ILO is grounded on the belief that with changing the global economy and advances in technology the nature of jobs will transform dramatically overtime. And with our partner’s program interventions, particularly the Women in STEM Workforce Readiness Programme,  we aspire to inform and accelerate efforts to support demand-driven skills training and expand quality education… this leads to higher value jobs and long term careers,” he stressed.

Empowered role models

During the discourse, the panelists began their unique stories by introducing their pathways as a mother, entrepreneur and top leader in their organizations. Recalling her career foray, Aileen Judan-Jiao, the first homegrown President and Country General Manager of IBM Philippines, said taking up a science-related course among women as “something very scarce at that time.”

Maria Cristina “Beng” Coronel, President and CEO of Pointwest, on the other hand, shared an experience where, after she successfully got a degree in Chemical Engineering and excitedly applied for a position, she was to be told by companies that “they don’t hire female chemical engineers.”

Having to deal with that incident, Coronel never stopped and instead shifted careers, becoming a programmer and eventually an entrepreneur and now a President and CEO of a Filipino IT-BPO company.

On the premise of what needs to be done to increase women numbers in tech in terms of education and career guidance, Judan-Jiao said that “focus must be put in keeping them sustained in the workforce.” Also, she called on every woman to support each other and to be “hidden no more.”

“For those who are thinking about pursuing a career in STEM but have doubts, know that you can do it. We need to be a lot visible and show sincere interest.”

“Ladies should hold the map; have no fear nor guilt feelings. We have to remove that kind of mindset.  We need to create more success stories. I believe it’s a huge step forward so we can spread awareness and inspire more,” Coronel seconded.

Exposed to computers and coding at an early age, Ambe Tierro, Senior Managing Director for Global Artificial Intelligence of Accenture Advanced Technology Centers in the Philippines, herself advocated for “a comprehensive action plan (which) is vital to creating a sustainable, supportive, gender-friendly work environment.”

“Also, we should cultivate an empowering culture of role models. We need more women examples to help young women and girls see or reflect themselves in the positive light. Having girls listen to the story will empower them and make them see that it’s possible for them to pursue this career. The STEM field is a very interesting field, you never stop learning, it’s very dynamic and very rewarding in terms of life-long career,” Tierro remarked.

A nurse by profession, MichieAng, now co-founder of Tecsoft Apps and Women Who Code Manila founding director, said role models are important for girls to inspire them to take on leadership roles in STEM. Additionally, she regards women empowerment as “giving women the power to just express themselves.”

“Being able to do things, to voice out what their concerns are, to be able to be themselves, that’s basically it. By just being out there, by going out and telling, sharing your story to other women is also empowering them, like telling them ‘hey, I can do this, I can be in this field, and it’s not just for men’ Lastly, follow your heart, try it out and just do it,” Ang commented.

Lastly, the panelists underscored the need for company-led initiatives to ensure that women’s voices, representation and leadership in the workforce are strengthened.

Apart from the inspirational storytelling by the speakers, guests and students from different schools in Manila attended the special film viewing of the movie “Hidden Figures” which story is about a group of brilliant African-American women working at NASA who served as the brains behind astronaut John Glenn’s launch into orbit. The movie screening was simultaneously done in universities in other parts of the country such as Marawi, Zamboanga and Davao.

Breaking barriers

With support from JP Morgan and the TESDA, the ILO program in the Philippines opened 175 scholarships which targeted at empowering, connecting, and supporting career development of women in the IT sector. To date, over 25 women completed the bootcamp training/workshop in November 2018.

“Over the next two decades, technological advances including cloud technology and robotic process automation, will significantly change jobs and enterprises in the Philippines. The ILO estimates that 49% of employment (over 18 million jobs) face a risk of automation in the Philippines. Female are employed predominantly in jobs requiring low STEM skills, which are clearly at risk of automation. Women are 140% more likely than men to losing their job as a consequence of automation,” said Linartes Viloria, National Project Coordinator of the Women in STEM Workforce Readiness and Development Programme in the Philippines of the ILO, citing an ILO study.

“To address these issues, and considering the national economic and social development priorities, the ILO identified the IT-BPO industry as high-growth in the Philippines, presenting significant projected STEM-related skills gaps and opportunities for growth for women over the next decades,” she concluded.