No Free Lunch

More women in high places

THERE’S AN old “Pugad Baboy” comic strip of questionable taste that has young feminist Tiny throwing a question at chauvinist hippie Bab: “Give me one thing that men can do that women can’t.” While Bab’s answer was amusing, if witty (“Can 12 women pee into one bed pan all at the same time?”), the absurdity of it illustrates that for most practical purposes, anything a man can do, a woman can do as well. And women are expected to do it all while doing something men can’t—and no, it’s not walking around in high heels.

Back in the days when the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) was required of all young men entering college, a male high school student was heard demanding that in this age of gender equality, female students should be required to take ROTC as well. The glib retort of his commandant reportedly was: “Mag-usap tayo kapag kaya mo nang manganak“ (Let’s talk once you can bear children). While the soundness, politically or otherwise, of the commandant’s reasoning may be debatable, there is some merit to it. Because of this fundamental difference, men and women may be equal, but on this one important respect, they simply are not the same.


This unique ability of a woman to bear offspring has been both her boon and bane, especially in the context of the workplace. At work, women are accorded special privileges as the fair sex, who must also mother our children—but they are also put at a disadvantage for the very same reason. The recent Senate approval of the Expanded Maternity Leave Law of 2015 seems testament to our society’s recognition of a woman’s distinct maternal rights. On the other hand, the adverse reaction of many employers—on the argument that this is going to be hard on their businesses, and that the move may create undue resentment toward long-absent mothers—shows that these privileges do come at a cost that is ultimately expensed from a woman’s career growth.

To most observers, especially from outside, the Philippines is a good place to be a woman.


We have consistently ranked high in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. Filipino women can vote, their voices are heard, and are free to move about on their own without chaperones—things that women in still too many places elsewhere cannot take for granted. Our girls are as educated as (or often more so than) our boys; indeed, in some parts of the country, girls in school outnumber boys by as much as 1.6 to 1. Women likewise outnumber men in tertiary education, and we do not have a lack of female graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses.

Our laws against gender discrimination allow women equal opportunity to get hired. Our family-oriented ways make it perfectly acceptable for a woman to prioritize the care of her children over her career. Our culture allows a woman to work, and people will not fault her if she has to drop her work ball to deal with a sick child. But there is a thin line between encouraging a childbearing woman to make time for building her family and excluding a woman from opportunities for career growth on the excuse that she has children to care for. Hence, we have a lot of women in the workforce, but they continue to account for less than half of senior executive positions, and even less in senior positions beyond “soft” disciplines like human resources management.

We appear progressive when it comes to the status of our women in general, but this “glass ceiling” remains persistently difficult to break. We still stubbornly cling to the image of Maria Clara and the subservient roles that she should play. We still consider certain jobs and positions as not for women, even when there’s no practical basis for saying so (we’ve had women take the title of champion welder in past national and regional Skills Olympics, for example). We expect women to focus on marriage and children first because she has an expiration date. Still, we expect a woman to act no differently from a man in the boardroom—and there is nothing wrong with this if the woman gets there by her own choice. But for her, climbing up the corporate ladder is often an uphill battle against culture and institutional hurdles.

Companies may be missing out, given evidence that companies with more female corporate boards and “C-Suite” members are more profitable. Marcus Noland, in a paper released last month by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, found positive correlation between presence of women in corporate leadership and company profitability. The study, based on data from nearly 22,000 publicly traded companies in 91 countries, found that an increase in the share of women from zero to 30 percent is associated with a 15-percent rise in profitability. Earlier, The McKinsey Quarterly, in its “A Business Case for Women,” observed that companies known to have three or more women in their senior management teams generally performed better. Other researches have reached similar conclusions regarding mixed-gender management teams. Women are found to change the dynamics of discourses that were once dominated by men. This is not to say we should do away with males, or that a token woman can automatically bring about a turnaround for a failing corporation just by bringing her two X-chromosomes to the table. The key appears to be in balanced compositions.

The exact cause of the positive “feminine effect” in high positions remains subject for further study. But regardless of the cause, the implication seems to be that more women in leadership positions is a good thing. Whether in the corporate world or in political governance, there are clear lessons worth heeding here.

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