High-powered female leaders from diverse industries in the country share their secrets to success, dealing with adversities, and how they face the challenges head-on

1. Alice Eduardo

Founder, president and CEO of Sta Elena Construction and Development Corporation

What are some of the challenges and opportunities for women in your industry/sector?
The construction industry continues to be dominated in number by male founders and leaders. Both the market and workers have grown used to that. This challenge is an opportunity to bring the female brand of leadership to the field. We can bring our unique empathy, grit, hands-on style and attention to detail to the work.

What has been the most significant barrier you have encountered as a woman in your career? How did you overcome it?
I would say the sincerity to succeed, the perseverance and determination to secure work, and the hard work I’ve shown as a woman in the field of construction encouraged my first clients to give me and our team our earliest projects.

How do you balance work, family, and self-care?
I’ve devised ways to hold meetings near my home, or with my trusted team members in my home, in order to be close to my children and my parents. As a rule, I try to sit and be present with them in as many meals during the day as I can. I try as much as possible to start the day in meditation and draw the line between me-time and work. Travel and a change of scene at my home outside the country have also played a key role in my ability to recharge. For this I am very grateful.

Who inspires you?
Very easily, my mother, from whom I learnt many skills and insights not necessarily taught in school. Her innate business sense and work discipline are things I aspire to live up to.

What advice would you give to the next generation of women leaders?
The world has changed so much but many leadership values endure—the ability to inspire and lead by example, fairness, empathy, admitting what you don’t know, and celebrating the talent in the team who can make contributions. And in this digital world, always look for ways in making humans more relevant, especially in areas where their work has been automated.


2. Camille Villar

District representative, Lone District of Las Piñas and Managing director of Vista Land and Lifescapes

What are some of the challenges and opportunities for women in your industry/sector?
In the retail/real-estate sector, women have a lot more opportunities than challenges. Women in this sector possess the creativity and discipline to lead, start their own businesses and be specialists.

Because of gender, what has been the most significant barrier you have encountered in your career? How did you overcome it?
Maybe not barrier but rather, challenge in my career has been how to create a balance. There are not enough hours in the day to do what I have to do at work and at home. But I discovered that I just had to come up with a system to manage my time better. Through technology, creativity and multi-tasking, I was able to achieve a worklife structure that works for me.

How do you balance work, family and yourself?
To this day, I am still learning. What helps me, though, is setting aside a specific time for myself, my husband, my son, my family and my friends because this can sometimes be forgotten when you are absorbed in work. Knowing your priorities also helps.

Who inspires you?
My parents because they’ve instilled in me this drive and entrepreneurial spirit that push me to try to accomplish as much as I can in all my endeavours. Especially my Mum, who has always taught and shown me that my being a woman should not prevent me from accomplishing or doing anything that I want to do. I am also inspired by women leaders in business, like Tessie Sy Coson, who have achieved so much and are so admired and respected.

3. Sheila Lirio Marcelo

Founder, chairperson and CEO of Care.com

What are the challenges/opportunities for women in your sector in this time of the pandemic?
Many professional women are feeling extraordinarily stressed, juggling full-time work from home with caring for their families without help. They are leading meetings on video conferences all day and trying to keep up with their email, while trying to figure out home schooling, cooking meals, doing laundry and generally making sure that nothing goes off the rails. But interestingly, this is also a poignant time for men to witness their own partner’s struggle and will invest in more and better policies and benefits that support work-life balance for all employees, post-Covid-19.

How do you balance work and life responsibilities?
My husband, Ron, and I split 50/50 the work of running our home, and we don’t have stereotypes. He loves to cook and I enjoy doing our finances. My parents were the same way. And this is something we not only model for our boys, but also actively emphasise the importance of. I’d love their future spouses to know that we raised feminists!

What was the most significant gender-related barrier you encountered in your career?
Being a female entrepreneur running a female-focused business had many challenges. I have stories of being underestimated and overlooked. I remember one investor meeting, prior to our IPO for Care.com, where I offered people coffee when I arrived. It was second nature. One gentleman thought I was a bank assistant but I wasn’t shocked; I was plenty used to it by that point. I smiled, held out my hand, and introduced myself: “Hi, I’m Sheila Lirio Marcelo, founder, chairwoman and CEO of Care.com.”

4. Anne Arcenas Gonzlaez

Co-founder and president, Terry S A Inc

What are some of the challenges/opportunities for women in your industry?
As we are in the middle of a pandemic, there is an opportunity to design and create products that address the new normal. Fashion items that are not only beautiful and well made, but serve a real purpose and can last for a long time. Also, pieces that are kinder to the planet. With a keener eye for details, women are well suited to take an idea from concept to reality. They will play a key role in reshaping our industry. Fashion was fractured even pre Covid-19 and post pandemic, it will need so much repair. Female brains are wired for multi tasking and can excel in fixing the problems holistically.The challenge will be making sure we don’t stretch ourselves too thin. We tend to take on a lot as women. After the lockdown, it may feel like so much work will be needed in our home and professional lives. We may feel like we have so much catching up to do. Women will need to shift to an even more balanced mindset, and focus on what is realistically doable.

What has been the biggest. most significant barrier you have encountered as a woman in your career? How did you overcome it?
I never felt like the barriers were gender-related. Perhaps it was a combination of a strong sense of self, determination, and a great support system of both females and males that I really respected. I somehow always felt like I could do whatever I set out to do, and accept the failure and success that came with it. Many times, I am my own roadblock due to a lack of focus, wrong priorities, or moments of self-doubt. I overcome most challenges by being more self aware, by accepting things I have no control over, and by earnestly asking others for help when I need it.

How do you balance work, family, and self-care?
Sticking to a routine has been really helpful. A warm cup of coffee early in the morning while the house is quiet, regular workouts, scheduling business meetings and activities within a set period of the day so that I am still able to have family time, weekends at the beach—these are all key. Plus having a solid bond with my sisters, a tight group of friends and some travel throughout the year help keep me going.

Who inspires you?
A podcast I listened to last night talked about people who find their “thing” and how that relates to their definition of success. Those people inspire me. The ones who find that specific space in this world where they persevere, excel and impact other lives. Also in the midst of this crisis, hats off to female leaders who are setting an example of good governance. To name a few, Angela Merkel, Tsai Ing-Wen and Jacinda Ardern are decision makers who listen to data and science, and who are decisive yet empathetic.

What advice would you give to the next generation of women leaders?
Be yourself. More than ever, the world needs authenticity. Be different as long as there is an honesty to what you are doing. I truly believe we all need a shakeup and have been doing too much of the same thing.

5. Myla Villanueva

CEO, Micro-D International, Inc Asia Pacific; President, Global Telecom Women’s Network; Chairman, Philippine Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting

What are the challenges as well as opportunities for women in your sector in this time of corona?
I believe women leaders are stepping up! First in world affairs: Angela Merkel of Germany, Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, Sanna Marin of Finland, Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Katrin Jakobsdottir of Iceland, Erna Solberg of Norway. They all inspire. In my area of technology, the power of technology has really come to fore to keep us together as families, as businesses, as local and global communities at large. Women in our organisation truly provide the balance of technology and the people which it is meant to serve. They (my Head of Human Resources
and my CEO are women) have truly applied the “soft touch” to the hardware and hard edges of technology this time. More than ever, we are in touch with the anxieties of our clients and our people and work every day to serve them and help them leapfrog technology cycles to get them Covid-ready, faster.

How do you balance work and life responsibilities now?
I have a very supportive husband and a great team. My husband is sensitive to when I need space and I try to be sensitive to when he needs space. We are very transparent when we have issues, no time to lose and choose less drama for now! There is too much of that everywhere else. My daughter is in the most prescient field. She is graduating from Stanford with a master’s degree in computer science and bioinformatics; it’s like applying Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and biology all in one discipline. She asked to stay in Stanford, with an internship waiting at Apple in June. Things are tougher for my son. He is in the field of film and is a signed music producer before he entered Columbia last fall, and then this happened. He had to come home along with his entire freshman class of 2020 at the request of the university.

What advice can you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Always choose a great mentor or mentors, and never be afraid to hire people better than you! Always elevate others. Always be humble.

6. Happy Ongpauco-Tiu

CEO, Happy Concept Group

What are some of the challenges and opportunities for women in your industry/sector?
Women are highly valued for their soft skills, aside from their technical skills. They can be very strong, multitaskers, organised and detailed-oriented, while having an innate sense of empathy and compassion. Because of these, women have so many opportunities especially in the restaurant industry, where they interact with so many people at all levels, easily adapt to different characters and changes in the workplace. In terms of challenges, women are still deemed highly emotional individuals. When a man gets angry or shouts, it’s usually viewed as him asserting his power or instilling discipline. But when a woman gets angry, it’s viewed as her being emotional or too aggressive. There are still so many gender biases in the industry.

What has been the most significant barrier you have encountered as a woman in your career? How did you overcome it?
The Covid-19 global pandemic is, by far, the biggest challenge. The future seems uncertain as we don’t how long this will last and what the behaviour or psychology of the consumers will be like. Even if the ECQ is lifted, I anticipate that people will continue to save and focus on essentials. There are now so many discussions or articles on how the “new normal” will be like. Physical distancing will be implemented and this will affect customer turnover and sales in restaurants. The lockdown has given me and my staff more time to think, evaluate and plan. We keep ourselves updated by watching the news, track most especially the countries that are already coming out of lockdown and get the best practices or tips shared by businesses so we can apply these to my business when it re-opens.

How do you balance work, family, and self-care?
Family is my priority. I am happiest when I know that I have provided the needs of my husband and kids. But I make sure that I take care of myself, too, physically and mentally. Being cooped up at home for a long time can be a challenge to one’s sanity, so we should feed our minds with right and positive information, reach out to my family, relatives and friends regularly, and make sure that even if I haven’t seen them, our connectedness is constant.

Who inspires you?
My husband. I tend think endlessly about so many things and overstretch myself to accomplish a lot. He knows his priorities and can let go of things that drag him down. When he does this, he inspires me to do the same. My Dad has taught me a lot of valuable lessons especially when growing up. I got the entrepreneurial spirit because of him.

What advice would you give to the next generation of women leaders?
Trust your intuition. Always be hungry for learning. Hone your listening skills and your empathy.

7. Alexandra M Eduque

Founder and chairperson, Move.org Foundation, Inc

What challenges and opportunities do you see for women in your sector today?
Women, in my opinion, are natural (and some of the best) multi-taskers and wear many hats no matter what stage of life they are in. Women can juggle several roles at once and can seamlessly transform from one phase of life to another. In the non-profit sector, a multitude of opportunities for women exists. One could choose to help an organisation that advocates for women, or one could choose to volunteer as part of the sector’s workforce. The bigger opportunity for women in my sector now, I believe is in the possibility of helping out from wherever they are, and in whatever capacity. In a world on the cusp of transformation and evolution, a lot of adjustments are being made to aid others, and this is a sector that accommodates all kinds of schedules and priorities and definitely does not discriminate. Every bit of help is accepted and goes a long way.

How do you balance responsibilities for work and life outside of work?
First, I always make it a point to carve out time for prayer in my day, as I do time for myself every week. I have always believed that for one to be able to give the best of themselves in what they do, one has to be at his/her best, and so self-care and time are a must. As old school as this sounds, I have an actual planner where I write in my agenda and colour code based on whether it is for work, personal, family, friends, or collaborations. I am a visual person, and colours allow me at a glance to see how I am spending my time and what part of my life needs more balance, focus or attention. In this way, even if one of my responsibilities needs to be sacrificed momentarily, I am instantly reminded that I need to give more time to it in the next day or week.

What is the most significant (gender-related or not) barrier you have encountered in your career?
I do not think I have encountered a gender-related barrier in my career, as I have people doubting me and my efforts at a young age. I started out at 15 years old as a volunteer in the non-profit world, and my involvement evolved from there to raising funds and then eventually, starting my own organisation with like-minded individuals to pay it forward. Perhaps because it was not the norm, people were wondering if I was in it out of ulterior motives. Whether it was to make my college application more appealing, or for political ambition—the assumptions never stopped. When I was much younger, I remember wondering why some people could not understand that I genuinely found satisfaction in helping others out. As the years went by, I got older, and I suppose my work also spoke for itself. I am now blessed to have found a lot of partners, collaborators and donors from different sectors, and to have built long and lasting friendships with some of those people as well.

Who has inspired you in your life/career and why?
It would have to be my grand-aunt, Consuelo “Chito” Madrigal. For a bit short of 18 years, she was a very influential figure in my life as I was growing up. It was through her that I saw what charity beginning at home really meant. She showed me that in order for help to be substantial, it needed to be consistent and done properly. She imparted in all of us that “with privilege comes responsibility” and though I miss her dearly, I know she continues to smile on us all from heaven. Her legacy lives on in the thousands of lives her foundation, the Consuelo “Chito” Madrigal Foundation (CCMF), has touched and continues to touch.

What advice will you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Follow your heart and your dreams, rationally, and always be kind. Today’s measure of success may not be tomorrow’s. If you are kind (which amounts to nothing), you are already a blessing, albeit unknowingly, in a world that can be ridden with so much competition and pessimism. Stand out because you are the positive change we need and seek. Be compassionate and empathetic to everyone you cross paths with. In my opinion, a female leader touches hearts and minds in a most positive way, believes in the capability of and respects her colleagues’
opinions because she is not afraid to learn from others, and makes an impact in her sector and beyond.

8. Marga Nograles

Founder and proprietor, Kaayo Modern Mindanao

What are some of the challenges and opportunities for women in your industry/ sector?
I guess the biggest challenge was that nobody saw this crisis coming. We at Kaayo were already done with schedules and collections for the year but God put a hold on everything so I took the opportunity to stop, breathe and eventually innovate, and reinvent. We shifted to designing collections and collaborations that support the #BeatCovid19Together campaign. We would always create with a purpose; but now, we continue on together with our Tribes with a new purpose.

What has been the biggest, most significant barrier you have encountered as a woman in your career?
I guess before anything else, I am a wife and a mother. So being a wife to my husband Karlo—who works for government—took most of my time during the start of this crisis. I had to be there for my husband to remind him always that in order for us to get through this he had to rise above the noise, focus on work that had to be done and keep moving forward. At the same time, I was making schedules for my kids to keep them busy, productive and happy.

Who inspires you?
Now, more than ever, my husband Karlo. His passion, his purpose, his faith and the quality of his work are things I will always be proud of. We have been through so much, but this guy stands firm. I keep telling him that he is so lucky to have found me (because he is so serious) but okay, fine. I will say that I am the luckiest.

What advise would you give to future women leaders?
Know who you are and what you stand for. Then fight for what you believe in.


See also: 7 Inspiring Biographies and Memoirs of Notable Women Around the World

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