Leading Through a Pandemic: Lessons from Pinay Tech Leaders was a panel discussion among female tech leaders hosted by QBO Philippines, in partnership with Australian Aid, Investing in Women, JobStreet Philippines, Microsoft, and Youth Business International. In the discussion, the chosen panel of female tech leaders shared insights on navigating through a pandemic and developing a culture of compassion in the workplace.
Katrina Chan, executive director of QBO Philippines and IdeaSpace Foundation, opened the discussion and shared insights on her experience in heading one of the pioneering companies in the Philippine startup industry. In line with the organization’s mission to grow, develop, and collaborate with the ecosystem and startup community, QBO’s program Startup Pinay aims to encourage and empower more women to enter and lead the startup industry.
Chan shared that as the tech and startup economy continues to thrive, Startup Pinay fully intends to help women find their place in it. “Less than a fifth of our tech startup founders are women,” Chan stated. “There is a community out there; there is support out there, but how do we get more women to opt-in and participate?”
This key statistic raises the following questions: Why do we need more women in tech? What do they bring to the table that’s different? What can we learn from their stories?
Throughout the discussion, the overarching answer could be summarized into just one word: compassion.
“There is no other response to what is going on right now but compassion,” shared Kass Monzon, CEO & co-founder of Workbean, when asked about what people are looking for in potential employers. “We want employers to talk about compassion; we want them to talk about how they listen to people in their organizations.”
There has been a long-running discourse on gender roles in the workplace and challenging any perception that women are more suited to support rather than lead. Certainly, infusing the tech industry with the kind of leadership brought by women founders ushers in benefits previously not seen before. In a male-dominated industry, women leaders bring new perspectives into the room, and with these a culture of support and compassion.
During the panel discussion, the female tech leaders would often go back to the importance of compassion in the workplace. It gave listeners insight into how an idea is born—it is not from being aggressively pitched, but it is born out of active and earnest listening, constructive criticism, and genuine support until the idea is fully cultivated. The speakers shared that most of their best decisions were born out of compassion.
It is instances like these that emphasize the need for women in the field of tech, and how compassion is one of the greatest things that they can bring to the table.
Compassion has taught leaders to listen.
“My role now in leading the whole company is giving everybody a voice and allowing people to collaborate better,” said Kat Luna-Abelarde, International and Carrier Business Group Head of PLDT Global. “This is what the pandemic has also taught me—to invest in platforms that allow people to collaborate and to make sure that people are noticed.”
Since the pandemic started, Luna-Abelarde and her team have listened to what the employees need and have provided them with work-from-home essentials such as computer chairs and ring lights. Since then, productivity has increased greatly.
Compassion brings about empowerment.
“We are equal opportunity partners—we empower not just women, not just men,” explained Grace Vera Cruz, country head of Grab Philippines. “Any gender, any nationality, we try to serve them and empower them through our technology and through our platform.”
Vera Cruz shared that at Grab, they treat everyone as business partners instead of employees, giving them opportunities to thrive and create value for themselves and their respective businesses. In addition, in trying to create an environment of compassion and empathy, Grab has initiated an internal forum wherein their partners can open up about their concerns and lend an ear, especially parents who are working from home.
Compassion brings about inclusivity.
“We really made sure no one was left behind,” said Elaine De Velez, co-founder & CEO of Frontlearners, a startup whose goal is to make sure that everyone can access education, no matter how limited their technology may be. “In a way, the pandemic has increased the collaboration between a startup like us and the entire education ecosystem.”
De Velez shared that Frontlearners has reached out to the Department of Education because they believe that no one sector can handle the issues in education brought about by the pandemic. In fact, Frontlearners initially offered their e-learning camp for free, because they truly believe that education should be accessible to all. The company has closely collaborated with its clients and has tweaked its services to best suit their needs.
Compassion brings about all-around diversity.
Speakers also highlighted diversity, equity, and inclusion as crucial pillars in corporate culture. It is important that tech leaders assure that these pillars are integrated into the workplace—with awareness and consciousness as the vital first steps in fostering fair and equitable representation and opportunities for everyone.
These anecdotes from the speakers are exactly why we need more women, more compassion, and more diversity, in the workplace. Their stories highlight the importance of bringing new voices into the room, exchanging a wider range of insights, and presenting more solutions to the table. It opens up more room for conversation, discourse, and collaboration on topics that people used to shy away from.
More and more women have taken their place in traditionally male-dominated industries, but much more remains to be done for equal representation. Initiatives and programs like Startup Pinay offer a platform for women to realize their ideas and solutions in the tech industry.
When men and women have the same kind of support and opportunities, the possibilities are endless—and the ecosystem that Startup Pinay is helping bridge can only be enabling for all.