Celebrating and challenging the Filipina

I HAD the privilege of meeting so many high achieving kababayan and kabaro in the Filipina Women’s Network Gala honoring the 100 Most Influential Filipinas in the World. It was held in San Francisco on October 26.
Celebrating Pinay Power, I got to listen to the leadership keynote speech of Cora M. Tellez , who is President and CEO of Sterling Health Services Administration — a company she founded in 2004. I was deeply moved and energized by her message.
In her keynote speech, Cora celebrated the success of Filipina women, because of their uniqueness as Filipinas in the global community. She challenged Filipinas to give back to the community.
Here are some excepts from her speech.
Giving hope to younger women
I am fortunate to be in a position to counsel Filipina women who are striving to succeed in their field.  I am asked often whether being a Filipina in the US has been a liability to me, in my professional journey.
I believe that question speaks to concerns that somehow Filipino values and customs conflict with what it takes to succeed.
On a personal note, being a Filipina has not kept me from succeeding in corporate America, as an executive or as a board director of publicly traded and venture-backed companies, or as an entrepreneur.
[On] the contrary, I am grateful to my Filipino heritage for being grounded in who I am, and what matters in life.  I take pride in telling business colleagues that I’m Filipina.
My experience says that being a Filipina is an asset, not a liability.  If you don’t believe me, just ask the 100 women who are being honored here tonight.
At the same time, I am keenly aware that there are challenges to young women, who want to succeed while staying true to values taught by our parents and our community.
Sometimes it’s tough to balance the demands of home and family with the pressures at work.  And sometimes those demands call to question the relevance of Filipino values.
Frankly, I have found that certain values work very much in our favor.  For example, the cultural value of working with others, pakikisama, is a trait that fosters alliances and networking.
Pakikisama speaks to the sense of community, of working towards the collective well-being of family, friends, organization, and community.
After all, success is a team sport, and we, women, are natural team players!  The Filipina Women’s Network is the perfect forum for Filipina women to network and obtain support!
Young Filipina women complain that outside of the Philippines, we are subject to stereotypes:  we’re supposed to be shy, modest, retiring, hardworking, but not assertive — meaning, we’re not leadership material.
In my professional history, I have relished destroying those stereotypes.
I began by destroying those views inside my head, as often our mental models impair us long before we go to work.   When our self-image is positive, strong and confident, there is no leadership position we cannot tackle!
Celebrating women, who defy conventional views of what is possible for a Filipina
I’m an example of failed familial dreams.  My mother, a devout Catholic, had her view of success for me –that I would be a nun.  She even picked out the convent for me.
Even at age 10 (Mother started programming expectations at an early age), I sensed I would fail as a nun, because I knew I couldn’t honor one vow.  The vow is obedience to laws and rules that don’t make sense to me.
A character trait (or flaw) that has defined me is a violent allergy to being told what to do, especially to follow practices and policies that I don’t agree with.  And I figured out that the only way I could do that in my life, is be Number One in any group or company.
But striving for excellence and leadership puts me in significant conflict with conventional views of Filipina women, especially the ones about being obedient and not questioning authority.
I am reminded of an awardee I met the other day: Ms. Isabelita Manalastas-Watanabe, who started a remittance business in Japan.  She had many things going against her.  She is not Japanese, she is not male, and she had to overcome a significant barrier to entry in her industry, and that is, huge capital outlays in advance of opening her business.
Her story of courage, sheer determination and a very clever way to raise capital among Filipinos in Japan, is a celebration of defining success on her own terms.
I’ve been privileged to meet very successful men and women in my life.  I’ve learned from successful women, in particular, that they are made, not born; that they became successful, in part because they challenged societal views of what a woman should be, should act like, should have by way of professional success.
They are comfortable in their own skin, and with each passing year, they destroy limits to what they can achieve.  These women are in our midst today.
If I were to take a poll of the most influential Filipina women in the world, I bet I would learn the following:
– They are self-confident, self-assured in their views of their capabilities and their ability to influence others
– They are strong and courageous, as they have broken limits set by society, by their families, and perhaps, by their own mental views of themselves and how far they can go
– They are avid learners; as importantly, they learn from their mistakes
– They are risk takers; they are willing to make sacrifices to test an idea, to pursue a dream
– They are generous in sharing what they’ve learned
– Quite literally and figuratively, they hold the door open for other women
Finally, these very successful women are the beneficiaries of support from their families, from husbands, children, parents, siblings, co-workers and friends who believed in them.  They provided encouragement when times were hard, capital when needed, and support in tangible and intangible ways.
Success is a team sport, and successful women benefit enormously from their personal team of supporters.
Giving back
Success carries a powerful responsibility, and that has to do with giving back.
For every successful woman, there are many more women who feel stuck in positions that are soul-destroying, and many young women who will be denied opportunities to grow.  And who can we depend on to help such women,  if not successful Filipina women?
If you agree with me that success is a team sport, then it behooves us to support the home team.  In the audience are many women, who model behavior that speaks to giving back.
I’ve listened to them during the course of this conference. I’ve learned how they’ve created opportunities for women through personal referrals, by providing scholarships, by mentoring, by advancing capital to young entrepreneurs, and by funding charitable organizations.
These women are true heroes, as they model for us, what success truly means.  Like you, I celebrate these women and look to learn from them.
So what will success look like if we succeed in achieving these three things?
The Filipina Women’s Network offers us one view of success:  to double the number of global Filipina leaders by 2020.  We’ve got work to do, ladies and gentlemen!  We need a solid pipeline of emerging Filipina leaders, if we are to meet this goal.
The goal is lofty, but achievable.
Imagine the future, and know [that] it’s only a matter of time before we double the number of global Filipina leaders.
Let’s begin by celebrating the achievements of women, who succeeded against tough odds — women who have shattered glass ceilings, women who  have stayed faithful to and are appreciative of their Filipino heritage.

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Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com, https://www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos

Gel Santos Relos
Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com and www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos

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