By Sheryl Milagro
With the progress presented by a highly digitized world, women – though steadily assuming careers and jobs in various Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields over the years – remain a minority. As the fourth industrial revolution paves the way for both opportunities and challenges, women are called to lead and create their mark in these male-dominated sectors.
Seeking to raise awareness and bridge gender gaps as a way of advancing women leadership in STEM, the International Labour Organization (ILO) with the support of JPMorgan Chase Foundation and in cooperation with the Embassy of the United States in the Philippines and American Spaces-Philippines, held the first Filipina STEM Leaders Forum. It’s an event that featured the trail-blazing achievements of four distinguished Filipina role models and leaders in the IT-BPM sectors and how their triumphs in life and career proved #WomenCanDoIT.
The recent forum raised the need and call for equal opportunities for women. In his speech, UN Resident Coordinator Ola Almgren congratulated the proponents and partners of the program as he called on for more women role models 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, the truth is that they still remain underrepresented in these areas, so more clearly need to be done,” Almgren said.
Hidden no more
The four panelists of the forum began the discussion by sharing their unique journeys as mothers, entrepreneurs, and top women leaders in their organizations.
To bring better learning and work experiences and to increase women numbers in tech in terms of education and career guidance, Aileen Judan-Jiao, the first homegrown president and country general manager of IBM Philippines, said mapping clear, long-term strategies is one solution that will engage aspiring female STEM practitioners and leaders.
That focus, according to her, “must be put to keep women sustained in the workforce.”
She also called on every woman to support each other and to be “hidden no more.”
Maria Cristina ‘Beng’ Coronel, President and CEO of Pointwest Technologies (a leading 100 percent Filipino-owned, IT / BPM services company), on the other hand, shared how she dealt with challenges early in her career, including being bluntly told by companies that “they don’t hire female chemical engineers” despite her degree.
“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 added.
Ambe Tierro, Senior Managing Director for Global Artificial Intelligence of Accenture Advanced Technology Centers in the Philippines, for her part advocated for “a comprehensive action plan (which) is vital to creating a sustainable, supportive, gender-friendly work environment.”
“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 rewarding in terms of life-long career,” Tierro remarked.
A nurse by profession, Michie Ang, 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.
With a mission to improve women acquisition and adoption of critical soft and technical STEM-related skills for the industry via the Women in STEM Workforce Readiness and Development Programme, the ILO, with the support of the public and private sectors provided free workshop/ training scholarships for women beneficiaries.
The program, in essence, seeks to strengthen retention and advancement of female workers in STEM sectors as it contributes to reduce the skills mismatches that are affecting workers’ productivity and enterprises’ competitiveness in this rapidly changing context.
“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 percent of employment (over 18 million jobs) face a risk of automation in the Philippines.
Considering women, more often than men, are employed predominantly in jobs requiring low STEM skills, they are clearly at risk of automation. Women are 140 percent more likely than men to losing their job as a consequence of automation,” cited Linartes Viloria, National Project Coordinator of the Women in STEM Workforce Readiness and Development Programme in the Philippines of the ILO.
This is where the women leaders in STEM can step up and play a powerful role. “(By) actually telling people, we are sharing to everybody the stories of these women. And when other women like us hear these…(these make) us feel that it’s never too late to aspire for these careers. When we see them that they are also people who go through life just as we do, it brings, especially to those who are already in that field, it strengthens their belief, ” Viloria said. “We have to encourage more girls and women to get into science, and to encourage
those already in STEM to stay in the workforce and become an inspiration to others.”