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The accidental feminist

I was recently invited to join a panel of male CEOs to discuss how our experiences as fathers of daughters have influenced gender equality policies and programs in our workplaces. Some background: I’m one among four brothers; we have no sisters (growing up, when asked if I wanted to have a sister, I would answer, “Whatever for?”). My father’s family was composed of five brothers; no sisters there, either.

For more than a decade, we attended an all-boys school. I grew up in a testosterone-laden environment where approval was best expressed by grunting like a caveman, and affection by a moderate slap on the back. I can pinpoint my gradual conversion to feminism from the birth and continuing journey into adolescence of our only child and now 14-year-old daughter, Martina.

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I realized how, in the Philippines, females still do not have the same breadth of opportunities as males when, in one conversation, I mentioned with some satisfaction that a certain hitherto all-male high school had begun admitting girls. Apparently, this sentiment wasn’t widely shared, as someone remarked that that this ruined the experience for boys.

Let’s begin with the premise that the school in question has a great track record of opening untold opportunities for its alumni. Let’s then agree that every parent wants the best for his or her child. Then let’s come to grips with the idea that no one should be excluded from a great education just because her gender will “ruin” others’ experiences.

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A non-admission policy based on gender essentially conditions females at an early age to accept that topnotch education is only available to boys, and not to girls. By extension, it reinforces the idea that there are other important areas in life where females are not welcome, because they are females.

This certainly does nothing to build an individual’s confidence, a key ingredient for success. In one KPMG-commissioned study, 67 percent of women surveyed said that they need more support building confidence to become leaders. Since that conversation, my wife Ina and I have emphasized to our daughter never to accept the limits imposed by others because of her sex.

When I first joined KPMG Philippines 11 years ago, no woman sat on the executive committee, notwithstanding that the firm had a ratio of 60:40 women to men. We’ve made impressive strides in placing women at the fore of our business: Today, women outnumber men five to three on our executive committee. Our Chairman and CEO is a woman.

However, let me say that I do not agree with some common notions of gender equality. The concept of equal rights for women certainly cannot simply be put down to achieving a state of uniformity, where every perceived or real benefit of male employees is granted to female employees. Rather, it should be construed as an active effort to provide women the opportunities that will equip them with the confidence, skills and the knowledge to map their career path without regard to their gender or economic background.

Our women leaders are real-life role models to our staff (female and otherwise). What better way to unleash their potential than by communicating these individuals’ powerful and compelling life stories? Mentorships are another way we support our women professionals’ aspirations to leadership and excellence.

It’s also important to lead by example.  At home, Ina and I demonstrate that our roles are not dictated by gender, but are based on our own skills and interests. Thus, I cook, garden and enjoy decorating our home, whereas my wife Ina manages her business and the home, and, to boot, is an avid sports fan (I’m not).

Similarly, at the office, rewards and promotions are dictated by ability without regard to gender or sexual orientation. I hope that, by embracing these attitudes, I’m making a better world for Martina and Filipino women.

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Emmanuel P. Bonoan is the vice chairman and chief operating officer of R.G. Manabat & Co., the Philippine member firm of KPMG International. His email is [email protected]  

 

“Business Matters” is a Makati Business Club project to share the views of key leaders in the business community. The ideas do not necessarily reflect MBC’s position.

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TAGS: Family, Feminism, gender equality
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