Three of EastWest’s female senior executives share their perspectives on succeeding in a traditionally male industry
Like many professions over history, banking has traditionally been seen as a field dominated by men. It’s no different in the Philippines, where banking in the country took root in the middle of the 19th century. When one mentions bankers, the mental image that comes to mind can still be that of prim and wizened men.
Despite this perception, the past few decades have done much to challenge and change this idea. Women have increasingly risen through the ranks in many banks in the Philippines, and by the turn of the millennium, a handful of the country’s top banks have already embraced the strength and intellect they have to offer in high-ranking positions.
Gotianun-led EastWest is one such bank that has openly rostered a remarkable amount of women in its entire ranks, all the way up to senior management and executive levels. As of Dec. 2021, the bank currently has 4,384 female employees over 2,361 male employees, with 131 female executives over 114 male executives. Currently, the bank also has five female members on its Board of Directors.
This strong female-to-male ratio in EastWest’s employee base is due to the bank sufficiently establishing itself as a meritocracy that does not see any gender bias—something that three of its female senior executives know all too well.
“EastWest is a meritocratic environment that cares deeply for its people,” said Board Director Isabelle Gotianun Yap. “We stand by our RED framework—Role Clarity, Environment, and Development for all, and our programs are focused on these elements. We believe our steadfast commitment to placing our people at the center makes a great place for anyone, especially women to work in.”
Simply put, if you’re a banker who excels and is deserving, you get the spot. “Merit and credit are given to the most deserving, this is very much aligned to the culture of the bank. EastWest gives equal opportunity to everyone to excel,” says EastWest SVP and Deputy Head of Retail Banking Group Ivy B. Uy.
“The bank doesn’t consider gender or anything for that matter in making decisions when it comes to people. Fortunately, EastWest has attracted equally good women,” shared SEVP and Chief Lending Officer Jacqueline S. Fernandez.
“I have been in banking for the past 29 years, being exposed to both male and female bosses that served as my role models. I do not believe in stereotypes—I really believe inequality between men and women as long as you also do not undermine yourself and your capabilities,” Uy added.
It also helps that Philippine society as a whole is generally more open to having women in leadership positions, which other countries could still have a problem with. This receptiveness to the idea translates into better opportunities for women’s upward mobility, not just in EastWest but in many organizations and institutions.
“The Philippines is relatively supportive of women in leadership positions so there is a lot of room for upward mobility,” said Yap. “At EastWest, there are definitely opportunities for upward mobility for women—you can see this from our board where almost 50% of our directors are women, and also in our Executive team. We definitely walk the talk here.”
“Over the past few decades, we have seen more and more women occupying senior positions in the banking industry,” said Fernandez. “Since the environment is now neutral to gender, it is just a matter of having women who have what it takes and are ambitious to be at the top. Given this, maybe you can say it’s much easier now compared to five decades ago.
“Though it is true that banking at the top is still male-dominated with only few female bank presidents, many women have proven their mettle over the decades that the banking industry has already opened up to women having senior posts,” added Fernandez.
The feminine strength
Although EastWest prides itself as a bank that does not discriminate, it’s worth noting that women also have their own unique advantages that they bring to their management roles.
“I believe women can add perspectives on empathy and perhaps concerns employees may have not just in the workplace but outside it as well,” said Yap. “Women are also equally resilient and determined, once we have a goal, we are also laser-focused on achieving this.”
Uy is very much familiar with the strengths that a female perspective can add to a bank’s performance, as someone who oversees the bank’s wide network of stores and helped lead remarkable and transformative operations in the organization.
“In my opinion, women bring three unique things to their roles: a transformational leadership style, open cooperation and collaboration, and a democratic communication style,” shared Uy.
“Women are more maalaga. Women leaders function as a role model for their subordinates. They inspire their team and spend a lot of time coaching their team. They care a lot about their personal development.
“Women leaders emphasize teamwork and authentic communication as a key to success. For most women leaders, leadership is not meant only for accomplishing organizational goals but for transforming their followers into better people.
“Lastly, women leaders tend to be participatory and possess a democratic style of leadership. Women oftentimes indirectly communicate their expectations of a given task and allow more space in accomplishing a goal. It sometimes helps the team members use their skills and expertise to complete the task, however, at other times it can be a drawback if the assigned task requires a leader to have direct communication with the members.”
While it is just as true that the strengths and skills that allow one to rise to the top are the same regardless of gender, sometimes there are just some intangibles that some have—and a diverse set of perspectives is crucial to an organization’s exceptional performance.
Providing the proper support
It’s not only in the senior management and executive levels where allyship and consideration for women count—EastWest is also aware that it constantly needs to improve and make sure that its female employee base is always supported, especially when it comes to women’s needs.
“The recent pandemic has brought new challenges to women in terms of work-life balance,” shared Yap. “As our bank was one of the most work-from-home banks in the country, we heard how our employees had to juggle working, teaching, and cooking with everyone under one roof. While we are normalizing and moving back to pre-pandemic work arrangements, we still need to be cognizant that everyone, including women, are also going through that transition in their own lives.”
Fernandez agrees with the need to show more institutional support to women employees. “As an employer, I think we can have some opportunities to address some of their concerns, such as providing lactating rooms to nursing mothers, and other similar initiatives,” she said.
This support for women not only extends to EastWest’s employees but also to the bank’s female customers, which make up a huge part of its clientele. EastWest understands the financial power that female customers possess, and is currently actively exploring more ways to serve them better and maximize their potential.
“In the Philippines, women play an important role as well in managing the finances of the family, so of course I believe we should have more relevant products for women,” said Yap. “While there are female-targeted products, we should go a layer further and cater to life stages of women and understand their financial needs from there.”
“Our data are telling us that our borrowers are more women,” said Fernandez. “Thus, we do marketing programs based on various personas which include women.”
“There is always room to understand the needs of any customer more so that we can come up with products or services that can serve them better,” said Uy.
With female EastWestbankers in prominent positions, greatly equipped with the insight and understanding of women on both sides of the counter, both female employees and customers can be assured of top-notch care and service at the bank. EastWest’s direction of holding women up as equal is a permanent and immovable pillar—and a major factor—of its excellence.