10 May 2021 | News/Stories

Leading through a pandemic: Lessons from Pinay Tech Leaders

People look to leaders to inspire them to stay focused on work, harness technology to make meaningful connections, and charge forward with optimism. In the tech world, some of these leaders are women.

QBO Innovation Hub, a partner of Investing in Women (IW), recently held an online event, Leading through a pandemic: Lessons from Pinay Tech Leaders. The event was part of the Startup Pinay program supported by IW and co-sponsored by Microsoft, JobStreet Philippines and Youth Business International.

QLITAN (a play on the Filipino word kulitan or friendly forum) is a regular networking event where industry leaders can meet other young, vibrant startup entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts to discuss issues, trends, insights and emerging opportunities.

Eunice Beatrice Braga, Head of Communication Marketing at IdeaSpace, moderated the discussion, which focused on the adaptive strategies and lessons learned amid the pandemic by the featured female tech leaders.

Below is the summary of key takeaways from the discussion.

Act based on your purpose and values.

Gender bias and systemic bias have shaped women’s experiences at work and pushed them harder to succeed on their own terms, use their talent to deliver differentiated value, and institutionalise a values system to the benefit of all within their respective organisations. Elaine De Velez, Co-Founder & CEO of e-learning content and tech provider Frontlearners, observed that focusing on what matters to you and to the market you wish to serve is the best defense against any sort of bias—because you know your worth and the value you provide.

Challenge the traditional notion of strength.

Though there is a pervasive bias towards “male strength,” usually characterised by a projection of confidence and decisiveness, women should not feel pressured to fit this mold to move up.

“The definition of strength has to change,” said Kat Luna-Abelarde, International and Carrier Business Group Head of PLDT Global. She pointed out that women-led countries and organisations fared better than most during the pandemic, which demonstrates that leadership comes in many forms.

Vulnerability is a superpower, alongside compassion, empathy, being nurturing and being resilient.

Values and characteristics traditionally considered “feminine” are important, particularly during a crisis. Emily Rich, APAC Director for Startups at Microsoft and Partner at early-stage tech startup venture fund M8 Ventures, advocates for compassionate leadership, such as easing the stress on parents who must combine remote work with childcare, by providing flexibility. “Let’s work on how you’re coping and how you need to work on these unpaid duties [at] home,” she tells her team.

Failures are our best teachers, let’s embrace them. It’s okay not to be 100% all the time.

Leaders who show vulnerability tend to be relatable—they also demonstrate that what matters is showing up and being accountable. “At some point, later on in life, you’ll realise that your failures are actually your best teachers, not only at work, but in everything that you do. Just make sure that you learn from [mistakes],” said Luna-Abelarde.

Embrace change and work to become better in the process of going through this change.

Pivoting one’s business due to the pandemic and developing solutions to meet emerging needs was a common theme. But women leaders do not only adapt to change; they enact it. Rich spoke of an entrepreneur who insisted that the investment committee or brokerage firm her enterprise dealt with should include women.

Founders are actually putting the pressure back on to us as VCs (venture capitalists)—which is incredible—that’s how we make change,” said Rich of the shift in dynamic.

Listening is one of the most important acts that any leader can do.

Apart from salary and benefits, young employees today are looking for communication channels to share their insights and be heard by their leaders. “What they usually ask us is: Do they have compassion, do they listen?…Because we know what’s happening on the ground and we want to feel we’re being listened to,” said Kass Monzon, Co-Founder & CEO of Workbean.

Listening to its stakeholders enabled mobile tech company Grab to provide solutions that matter: mobilising personnel in relief efforts; connecting with merchants and suppliers to generate sales in alternative ways; checking in via web chat with partner drivers to discuss concerns; and organising a regular forum called “Parents at Grab” that acted as a support group for employees with children.

Similarly, PLDT Global was able to attend to their employees’ needs—converting gas and parking allowances in favor of more essential benefits as well as —and boosted productivity as a result.

Create a platform for continuous learning and support to bring others with you when it comes to long-term success and value-sharing.

The speakers spoke of HR policies becoming more inclusive, and mentoring as one of the most fulfilling aspects of leadership. They agreed that whatever good fortune one receives should be paid forward.

“Enable other people to succeed. You have to bring people with you,” said Grace Vera Cruz, Country Head of Grab Philippines. She says Grab leverages tech to empower people to fulfill their own missions. “Make sure that they solve their own problems, that they thrive, despite any struggles that they might have.”


Watch the video to learn more about how these influential women are re-shaping the tech space.

For updates on similar QLITAN sessions and other upcoming events, visit the QBO site.

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