Breaking the Silos to Promote Women Leadership Development in Philippines: Isabel “Pao” Barrientos Gets Candid

May 2, 20168:33 am1715 views
Breaking the Silos to Promote Women Leadership Development in Philippines: Isabel “Pao” Barrientos Gets Candid
Promoting Women Leadership

Catching up on a candid conversation with Isabel “Pao” Barrientos, Managing Director, HappyFresh Philippines, we at HR in Asia seek to understand how technology can act as a key enabler to promote, support, mentor and encourage more women in Asia to assume leadership positions early on in their career.

As Barrientos emphasises, “HappyFresh does not believe in “meeting the quota” for female representation, we have a deep-seated belief that one’s leadership skills and capabilities should not be determined by gender alone. Also having comprehensive and flexible HR policies is the key to organisational growth.”

  • What are the factors supporting women leadership development in Philippines to assume new roles and groom talent for the future?

I believe that the first step towards supporting women leadership development is to hire fairly. By providing more employment opportunities that are based on merit, we can build a strong foundation for women’s participation in leadership roles.

Hiring and promoting women from the talent pool can also help groom more women leaders. At HappyFresh we have very talented women in leadership positions such as Laura Narbutaite, Senior Vice President for Product and Siripa Jungsawat who is our Managing Director in Bangkok.

Our primary customers are women, particularly working mothers in their early thirties. Deriving on the insights from female colleagues, we are able to understand our customers’ needs and this further allows us to build a solution that makes their lives easier every day.

We also need a strong mandate and commitment from the senior management in order to promote greater female participation in leadership roles. Encouragement and support from co-workers and other women leaders can help boost women leadership development.

HappyFresh does not believe in “meeting the quota” for female representation, we have a deep-seated belief that one’s leadership skills and capabilities should not be determined by gender alone.

Having flexible and comprehensive HR policies is the key. For many women in the Philippines who choose to play dual roles – as a professional and a mum – we need to empower them to fulfil their aspirations by adopting a nurturing workplace culture.

This could involve introducing more work-life balance, flexible work hours or even work-from-home options.

  • Seeking a breakthrough into the predominantly “male” industry, how difficult is it for women executives in top positions to break the silos and carve a success niche?

Technology has always been known as a boys’ club, and it is only in the last few years that we have seen the rise and celebration of powerful women in the tech world.

What was once an industry dominated by men, is now being shaped by women who understand the value that intuitive, efficient and well-designed mobile solutions provide industries and business of all sizes.

The good news is, women are, indeed, making their mark as technology innovators and entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia (SEA) as well as in Silicon Valley. Powerful women in the tech world are known globally, from Sheryl Sandberg, to Melissa Mayer, to Eleanor Saitta.

Having said that, there is definitely more room for improvement in terms of female representation in leadership positions.

According to the 2016 MasterCard Index on Women Advancement, women have consistently been on par with their male counterparts in terms of access to education and acquisition of knowledge assets.

Yet, results from the study showed that women in Asia Pacific are still lacking in employment opportunities and leadership roles.

  • Tell us more about the start-up culture in Philippines, compliance, regulations and policy issues when it comes to market penetration, the mindset of consumers from the retail point of view and so on.

The Philippines is dubbed as the second fastest growing economy in Asia as foreign investors are setting their sights on the country, as their production hub for Southeast Asia.

With a population of over 96 million, 96% literacy rate and projected GDP growth rates of 6-7% over the next few years, the Philippines is poised to go from strength to strength.

The economic growth that Philippine has in store, as an emerging economy will play a key role to help achieve HappyFresh’s long-term regional development goals. The country is well on its way to become ASEAN tech start-up epicentre.

Rapidly growing workforce in the Philippines has made it among the most attractive markets for companies to grow their presence in the region.

  • How do you think women advancement in tech can be developed and encouraged by organisations? Explain the role of mentoring candidates and the need to strategise talent pipeline.

Women career progression enablers: There is a need for organisations to create platforms and programmes for women to network with the industry experts. These programmes should help women envision their career progression into leadership roles.

Mentoring is very important: Identifying and grooming female talent early makes a difference to organisational growth. I am always looking for opportunities to connect with other aspiring women to build a community of tech-loving businesswomen.

Support for women: Establishing conducive environment at work for women to voice their opinions and stand up for themselves. The mentors should also provide constructive feedback to cultivate a culture of trust at workplaces.

See: Philippines Job Market is Upbeat with Salaries Expected to Increase upto 10% in 2016

  • What are your views on the integration of tech with retail to empower employees to achieve their full potential?

One of the most interesting integrations that we are currently looking at is in Indonesia.  In partnership with Dimo, a Jakarta-based fintech start-up, we are encouraging the use of e-wallets by employees to facilitate online grocery shopping, such that they do not have to push their way through crowded supermarkets after a long day at work.

All you have to do is – when you see a poster with a product code, you can just scan it and the price amount will be automatically deducted from your e-wallet. On successful completion of the transaction, the groceries ordered will be delivered to you by Happy Fresh team.

  • With the need for women on boards being emphasised at different forums across the globe, how do you think culture in Philippines stands a competitive advantage in comparison to other countries in APAC, to support women empowerment?

The Philippines is Asia’s best performing country in closing the gender gap. According to Global Gender Gap 2014 report of the World Economy Forum, Philippines is the only country in Asia Pacific that has fully closed the gender disparity in areas such as education, and health.

There is no shortage of talent in the Philippines because of its young, educated workforce and its English-speaking population (the fifth largest in the world). Local universities produce over 130,000 graduates in information technology and engineering each year, according to a report by Harvard Business Review.

Working for a venture-backed start-up company, like HappyFresh, is slowly becoming a status symbol. Talented young techies are looking to work with start-ups because of their desire to contribute and make a difference.

Culturally, women in the Philippines are more opinionated and well-versed. Therefore, they would want their voices to be heard, be active participants and leaders in any discussion. This is a stark contrast to some cultures where women are severely undervalued and sometimes even abused.

Women in the Philippines are no longer satisfied with back-end clerical work. Increasingly, we are seeing more women stepping up to the frontline as engineers, marketers, product specialists, accountants etc.

  • How are organisations in Philippines coping with the latest technological boom and aligning tech strategically with the business objectives?

In order to take full advantage of the opportunities created by the technological boom, organisations in the Philippines should:

  • Create and support a lifelong learning culture
  • Promote career development and advancement based on skills
  • Focus more on productivity-led growth and cost-effective resources
  • Create manpower initiatives that will encourage greater human resource investments

Asia is the world’s largest and most populous continent with ever growing technology platforms. Hence, there is potential to build brands.

Asians, including the Filipinos are strong adopters of new technology. For example, mobile penetration in the Asia-Pacific region (excluding China and India) has reached 110 percent in the first quarter of 2015, surpassing the global average (99 percent).

Isabel “Pao” Barrientos, Managing Director, HappyFresh Philippines

Isabel “Pao” Barrientos, Managing Director, HappyFresh Philippines

The outlook for food mobile app market in Asia has never been more promising as it is now. Opportunities abound this region with more sophisticated and food-loving consumers, growing populations and steady economies.

Online retailing is emerging and future generations will not know a world without digital services around food and eating.

In Philippines for example, middle and upper-income level consumers will continue to drive growth of modern, online retailers.

They are increasingly quality-conscious, demand higher levels of service and timely delivery. Demand for processed foods and dairy is growing, particularly in urban areas, driven by changing lifestyles – as people work longer hours and seek greater convenience.

  • What are the recruitment considerations and hiring challenges to get the best talent on board in Philippines?

HappyFresh Philippines adopts the same strategy as all of its offices in the other markets. The recruitment strategy is to hire local talents.

In order to deliver quality services to our customers, we have a team of experienced local talents with deep knowledge and insights into the online grocery scene in the Philippines.

Tapping into local talents further allows HappyFresh Philippines to become part of the local ecosystem. The company takes pride in attracting talented and diverse individuals in the Philippines to be part of our HappyFresh family.Promoting women leaders

  • Do you see talent retention as a challenge in Philippines as well?

Talented professionals are in demand everywhere, and Philippines is no exception. We can encourage more local talents to join the online marketplace by:

  • Encouraging competitive remuneration
  • Creating opportunities for career development and advancements. At HappyFresh, we reward outstanding employees by merit and performance. For example, Laura joined us in January 2015 as Vice President and was promoted in November 2016 because of her consistent delivery of good work.
  • Increasing awareness about exciting careers in the online marketplace
  • Investment in human capital

As a key player in the online marketplace in the region, HappyFresh wants to contribute and be a catalyst of change for overall industry growth.  We want to develop our own HappyFresh talents and will continue to attract more qualified Filipinos to join the HappyFresh family.

Currently, we have about 16 people working with us in Philippines, however this number is expected to soon increase as the company further expands into the region.

  • Do you think some job roles will soon cease to exist in Philippines? If yes, which are they and why?

Technology will continue to evolve rapidly and it is important to continue learning, to keep your skills updated and relevant to the economy.

At HappyFresh, we have set up a “HappyFresh Academy,” that offers regular and standardised training for all shoppers and drivers.

We believe that shoppers and drivers are crucial for our success. Their contributions cannot be replaced, so we do our best to train them well and keep them happy.

We also offer internal training programs and English classes for locals and local language classes for expatriates. The company also offers graduate trainee program, an 18-month long program for young local and foreign talents to grow into management positions.

  • What is the future of HR tech talent in Philippines?

The great thing about working for a start-up is that anyone can get involved, even if they do not have an IT background. The rapid advancement and usage of technology will allow more people, in this case, women to use it as a leveller in the industry.

With the right level of curiosity and willingness to learn, unlearn and relearn, technology creates a platform for individuals to break through.

As the Managing Director of HappyFresh Philippines, I would like to challenge my other women comrades to use technology to equalise the playing field. Filipinos should also seek retraining and opportunities to upgrade skills sets to keep up with the changing demands of the economy.

  • With IT industry being the highest contributor to Philippine economy, what do these signalling winds of change indicates?

Technology is increasingly being regarded as a core component, rather than a support role in both technology and non-tech organisations.

It has moved from being a productivity tool to one that gives organisations a competitive advantage. Tech companies like HappyFresh require core technology skills to create differentiated products.

Everyone in this ecosystem including individuals, businesses and government agencies will have to leverage on innovative technologies and solutions to make informed decisions and choices.

Disclaimer: This exclusive interview coverage and content is produced by HR in ASIAAny redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in this interview is prohibited. You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content.

Also read: How Do the Best Companies in Philippines Ensure Employee Happiness?

Image credit: e27.co

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