ANZCHAM Women’s Day Forum Highlights: Inclusion & Diversity

Inspire Inclusion: ANZCHAM Women’s Day Forum 2024 Highlights

ANZCHAM Womens Month 1 1 Photo by The Beat Asia | (From L-R) Jennifer Mendoza, Kei Mercado, and Natalie Davies

For the last century, women and those with disabilities have faced the additional struggle of not being accepted and included in the workplace. Needless to say, it has been an uphill battle for women and minorities who have been facing discrimination, bias, microaggression, abuse, and harassment — and to add salt to the wound, they are often gaslit or invalidated.

Every woman or Person with Disability (PWD) has a story that underscores the truth and while the world has improved by leaps and bounds over the last decades, the fact remains: there is still much to be done.

ANZCHAM President Benjamin Romualdez
ANZCHAM President Benjamin Romualdez

Last March 19, the Australian-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce Philippines (ANZCHAM) held the International Women’s Day Forum 2024 at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel. The theme “#InspireInclusion: Advancing Social Inclusion in the Workplace” aimed to address not just gender-related issues, but also work-related challenges faced by PWDs.

Attended by representatives from companies such as Qantas, Vocus, Macquarie, Telstra, ANZ, nXscale, and more, the event featured panel discussions on how to develop inclusivity in the workplace and empower women to go for leadership positions.

“There is no single approach to DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). What’s important is finding the approach that’s right for your organization,” ANZCHAM President Benjamin Romualdez said.

“True diversity isn’t just about gathering all the women in a forum and advocating for change. It’s about different people with different backgrounds, genders, and abilities, and coming together to listen to each other and take action.”

Data-Driven & Centralized System

Quezon City (QC) Mayor Joy Belmonte revealed how their centralized data-driven system for tackling VAWC (Violence Against Women and Children) helps ensure that each case is heard by gender sensitivity-trained individuals and experts, and no case is prematurely dismissed, mishandled, or missed altogether. It is the first of its kind in the country, a unified database that helps paint an accurate picture of what the reality is in the entire city.

“With this, everybody has the same protocol. All of the key agencies (police, social services, Gender and Development or GAD office, and government workers) have access to the same data which ensures the right interventions are implemented and the city government is able to respond faster,” Belmonte added.

The mayor then shared a quote by Nellie Borrero, Accenture’s Managing Director and Senior Strategic Advisor for Global Inclusion & Diversity: “Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice we make every day. As leaders, we must put out the message that we embrace, and not just tolerate, diversity.”

In a panel discussion, Division Director of Macquarie Eric Yaptangco shared that their company has globally implemented a voluntary self-identification program that involves nearly every aspect of a person’s identity — gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc.

“It’s voluntary but we encourage people to answer, even if they will answer that they don’t want to disclose [those details]. We need to be able to get that data in order to know what we are dealing with, how to implement [programs], and to measure success,” Yaptangco said.

He further stressed the importance of giving people that forum and safe space to declare their needs, and adding that the information provided is confidential and will only be used by the Human Resources (HR) Department when necessary.

Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte
Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte

Believing in the Abilities of PWDs

Grant Javier, Executive Director of Project Inclusion, shared his story that resonates with a lot of parents. When his son was two years old, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

“My greatest fear then was: ‘What will happen to my son when I’m gone? Will the society be able to accept him? Will he be able to work for himself or will companies accept him when he applies for jobs?’ This led me to start Project Inclusion,” Javier revealed.

He then voiced out an uncomfortable truth which is that PWDs always encounter barriers, mostly due to the stigma and belief that they are a “burden to society.”

“People with disabilities are actually a great pool of talent. Oftentimes, I’m asked by HR executives: ‘What can they do? Can they do such and such?’ And I tell them: ‘They can do it all, given the right environment and support.’”

Project Inclusion, which is the only Non-Government Organization (NGO) that is a member of the ILO Global Business and Disability Network, has a streamlined process that involves assessing, training, and then matching a PWD with a company (that Project Inclusion also prepares and trains prior to matching).

“We get to know each company and see where they are. Different companies will be at different points when we partner together, some are more advanced than others. But the important thing is we journey together. Often, companies and small businesses are afraid to start this initiative because they feel alone.”

Javier revealed that companies are often scared to make mistakes that could harm the disability sector or individuals. With this in mind, they also make sure to assess and prepare their corporate partners — from culture, physical structures, and even the hiring process.

“There is never a perfect match. Even when hiring people without disabilities, we never consider a perfect match, so that isn’t fair to expect from PWDs. What companies should do is to make the most of their culture for all employees, not just PWDs, to thrive,” he stressed.

Grant Javier, Eric Yaptangco, and Maricar Maza
Grant Javier, Eric Yaptangco, and Maricar Maza

Empathy & Compassion For All

Everyone can agree that the COVID-19 pandemic was a stressful and difficult time. And for someone whose job was centered around taking care of people, Kei Mercado (Canva’s former Country Manager and currently Co-Founder of nXscale) soon experienced burnout.

“There’s only so much coaching you can do during the pandemic. I’m a big fan of one-on-ones; I enjoy doing them. But it could also drain you. It was the pandemic; I was also going through the same situation as everyone else. Eventually, I realized my mental health was also suffering. As a leader and as a woman, sometimes we do so much for others and then we wonder who takes care of us,” Mercado mused.

She revealed that the company hired a coach who crafted a custom growth program and held group and individual sessions with the employees. Mercado shared that it was their way of showing the people that while everyone is going through different things individually, they’re all going through the pandemic together.

With this program, they found out that their top two performers (whose work was declining during the pandemic) were having family issues. One was in the midst of a separation; while the other was experiencing “Mom Guilt.”

For the first employee, the company gave her time to focus on herself plus individual coaching that helped her navigate the next chapter of her life. Through coaching, as well, the second employee was able to establish a better work-life boundary that allowed her to balance her duties at work with spending time with her children.

“We all needed help. The moment I acknowledged that I also needed help and sought it, that taught me a very valuable lesson. Empathy, compassion, and inclusive leadership are not just lip service. As a leader and woman, we also benefit from the same [safe] space we create for our employees. We have to care and be more intentional in inclusion and promoting diversity,” Mercado said.

ANZCHAM Group Photo
(From L-R) Eric Yaptangco, Natalie Davies, Mayor Joy Belmonte, Benjamin Romualdez, and Kimmi Siu Dewar

Transformative Leadership

Jennifer Mendoza, Program Manager of the Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE), started her speech with a story: a young woman once went to all of her job interviews wearing high heels. While they were extremely uncomfortable, she deliberately chose to do so because the shoes somewhat hid her disability. Plus, 90% of the time she did wear heels, she managed to land a job offer.

“I’m very familiar with this story because that woman was me. I have cerebral palsy and for the longest time, I tried different ways to hide the symptoms of my disability. Because I knew, from experience, that people would look at me differently once they found out my life-long disability.”

One day, however, her life changed when her former boss shared her own disability (which was non-apparent) and said that Mendoza shouldn’t have to be uncomfortable just to fit in. For Mendoza, this act of acceptance was transformative.

“It freed me from my disability and gave me the confidence to be myself. It shows the profound influence that inclusive leaders have. They foster environments where individuals feel accepted, valued, and empowered to excel. Inclusive leaders don’t just change policies; they change lives.”

Empowerment Through Employment

In her keynote speech, Former Vice President Leni Robredo shared some ongoing initiatives of Angat Buhay that focus on helping Filipina women, especially those programs that are designed to strengthen women’s self-agency through economic opportunities.

“This [program] was inspired by my experience as a lawyer in the development sector, where I worked with many women who had been stripped of their confidence because of abuse. Those years taught me of the unfortunate sacrifice, the overwhelming weight of belief that their only choice was to endure the pain, humiliation, and suffering because their abusers provided for their family,” Robredo shared.

With the help of Angat Buhay’s partners, they launched workshops for aspiring women entrepreneurs and provided training sessions on business management, product development, and financial literacy, plus seed grants.

“There were survivors of domestic abuse who mustered the courage to do the unthinkable, to walk away from that vicious cycle, kids in tow, and start anew. It had been a point of pride for us to watch them bloom, growing their businesses, and providing for themselves and their families. Some of them were even able to give job opportunities to others.”

Robredo continued, “Their stories are a testament to the mighty heart of the Filipina. And in this strand lies a universal truth: each woman is a pillar on which our society stands.”

They also provided safe and clean dormitories for young Filipinas who wanted an opportunity to focus on their studies. Angat Buhay also partnered with the United Nations Population Fund for a series of talks regarding key issues, such as teenage pregnancy, female health, and youth leadership.

Through the Angat Bayi Women’s Political Empowerment Program, the next generation of women leaders are developed through workshops, mentorships, and peer circles in order to develop a more gender-responsive form of governance.

Robredo then lamented the challenges that women professionals continue to face: lower pay, fewer opportunities for professional growth, and bias on competencies as they balance being mothers and family carers.

“Institutionalizing policies like flexible work arrangements, child care support, and paid parental leave can help ease the burden on women as they navigate the intersections of their work and home life. I am hopeful that this practice will soon apply in workspaces here in the Philippines,” Robredo ended.

ANZCHAM Head of Corporate Partnerships Nancy Castiglione
ANZCHAM Head of Corporate Partnerships Nancy Castiglione

For more information about the Australian-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce Philippines (ANZCHAM) and its events, visit their website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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