Male leaders of empathy and humility


The idea that gender equality is only a women’s issue and concerns only women should end now.

This exclusive notion has become irrelevant, if not archaic, as we collectively navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic. We have witnessed how important it is for all leaders—men and women—to advocate for a gender-equal society when responding to the current health and socioeconomic crisis that has affected not only the Philippines but also the world.

In the Philippines, Male Champions of Change (MCC), a coalition of male CEOs, works with other influential leaders to redefine men’s role in advocating for gender equality. MCC Philippines is at the forefront of activating and engaging peer groups of male leaders to step up beside women and drive gender-equal actions across the private sector and government.

We need more men to acknowledge that patriarchy—where men hold the power and women are largely excluded—needs to change. Some men may not agree that certain norms give them an advantage, as these were also designed mostly by men.

MCC Philippines continues to challenge notions of masculinity and traditional perceptions of manhood. This partnership between co-convenor the Makati Business Club, the Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment, and the Philippine Women’s Economic Network seeks to create a network of men who speak out as active agents to create inclusive and diverse business environments.

Male champions in action. On April 30, 2020, the coalition hosted its first virtual CEO meeting, with business leaders and country heads of leading companies in their respective industries speaking about their response to COVID-19. The group examined how the pandemic shook the economy and the way people live, work, and conduct business, with an emphasis on gender equality.

Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven J. Robinson AO shared that he fully supports MCC’s work to redefine men’s roles in responding to gender inequality. Given the unprecedented and significant strain on businesses resulting from the lockdown, and as businesses find ways to stay afloat amid the pandemic, Robinson pointed out how important it is for solutions and recovery plans to consider their gendered dimensions.

The ambassador noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected women and men differently, and that plans for economic recovery must acknowledge this and respond accordingly. He also explained that striving for gender equality in the workforce is essential for an effective response to the crisis and for building up our resilience to future shocks.

CEO leadership in the COVID-19 crisis. Some say that a crisis brings out the best in leaders. We must acknowledge the vital role of CEOs who embody proactive and exemplary leadership, anchored on empathy and a sense of community.

During these uncertain and taxing times, we witness people struggling with hunger, isolation, anxiety, and even the loss of their loved ones. The responsibilities of business leaders are not confined to business environments and structures but should transcend inherent interests, impacting households and communities.

The CEO discussions highlighted that in a crisis, leaders should show empathy to their employees; employee engagement and open communication lines are critical. Companies need to keep employees informed and address their mental health concerns, as harmonious employer-employee relationships are the lifeblood of businesses.

Most CEOs also observed the emergence of “genuine” leaders—employees able and ready to step up, to handle greater responsibilities to face new challenges. It was quite inspiring to hear the CEOs speak of the importance of humility, of being inclusive and open to creative solutions, innovative ideas, and “out-of-the box” approaches from their employees

While the COVID-19 pandemic can be terrifying, it has unleashed new ways of working and learning together, to adapt to change. MCC as a community of advocates for gender equality will continue to work together with a shared sense of purpose and clear priorities, actively engaging the support of more men.

While unthinkable, it is no longer “business as usual.” Leadership is key to protecting the significant advances made by Philippine companies and to articulate the business case for gender equality.

We used to believe that strong leadership should conform to the ideals of masculinity. But may this crisis serve as a lesson that empathy, humility, and compassion could lead the way.

Ma. Aurora “Boots” D. Geotina-Garcia is co-convenor of Male Champions of Change Philippines, co-chair of the Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment, and chair of the Philippine Women’s Economic Network.

Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).


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