Making the workplace truly gender-inclusive

By Gillian N. Villanueva

Atty. Mimi Lopez-Malvar

As director of government relations and country legal head at multinational company Procter and Gamble (P&G) Philippines, Mimi Lopez-Malvar often finds herself the only woman in panels or meetings she attends.

“When I came into this role and quickly met others in the same field, there was a perception that this industry was dominated by men who were either cold strategists or well-placed political animals,” she says. “I was neither.”

Her father, a lawyer and a public prosecutor, greatly influenced her career path, while her working mom showed her that she could pursue a career while still raising a family.

“Growing up, I never really thought along gender lines when it came to career planning. I think at one point, for a brief phase, I even wanted to be president of the country,” recounts Malvar in an email interview with the Inquirer. Early on, she got the sense that “what men can do, women can do too.”

The 45-year-old lawyer studied political science and law at the University of the Philippines before working in a law firm for five years. At P&G, she filled in for one of their lawyers who had gone to a study leave. She learned to love the work, the company and the people, so she eventually applied for a regular position at government affairs. What started as a three-month stint has led to 13 years of working at P&G so far.

Malvar shares how she has been underestimated for her gender or personal circumstances. “I once had to attend a public hearing being nine months pregnant and looking about ready to give birth,” she shares. “[I was] being asked constantly by a legislator whether I was okay, instead of being heard for the point I was making. I chose not to get sidetracked by the digression, and to use it instead to build rapport with my inquisitor and get my message across.”

Equalizing representation

When it comes to gender equality in the workplace, significant strides have been made in the Philippines, with 48 percent of senior management roles held by women in 2021, based on Grant Thornton International’s 2022 Women in Business report.

Helping P&G step up its campaign for equality and inclusion is Malvar, who leads programs that benefit the environment, strengthen small businesses, promote children’s health and hygiene, and empower women.

“Promoting equality and inclusion in the workplace fosters a culture of respect and of inclusion that truly strengthens an organization,” says Malvar. “It allows the company to leverage on the power of difference, unique insights and perspectives, which directly contributes to growing, innovating and building the business. Giving everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, equal access and opportunity to learn, grow and thrive makes for an engaged, productive and strong organization.”

Malvar says that in order to achieve this, long-term systemic interventions must be put in place to ensure that women are paid equally for equal work and given equal opportunities for advancement at all levels, most especially at senior levels.

“In the past, we saw that gender balance skewed toward less women at the more senior levels. P&G strives for equal representation across all levels of management, so we put more intention into understanding the insights behind this. We put in the right support systems so females receive advancement opportunities at the same progression as men. Currently, we are at a healthy 53 to 47-percent female-to-male ratio across the organization, even at senior levels,” she says.

There was even a point in her career that all of the positions above hers were held by women, which she found really inspiring. “This showed me that there is a clear path to the top and it was available for everyone who worked hard enough—no matter your gender,” she says.

Having a boss or a mentor who is a fellow woman also helped her be better understood when it comes to her personal circumstances, struggles or limitations. But while her current boss is now a male, she says she still feels understood and enabled because equality and inclusion are already ingrained in P&G’s culture.

“P&G is truly a gender inclusive workplace, and I don’t think I would have advanced in my career and at the same time been able to raise four children while juggling work if not for the programs and policies that we have in place,” she says.

Work-life balance

One of the reasons she joined P&G was to have better work-life balance while still being able to do a “challenging role.” P&G had adopted the 105-day maternity leave benefit well ahead of the enactment of the law, which allowed Malvar to spend more time taking care of her youngest son. The company also provides a breastfeeding room, which helped her nurse her children until they were 2 years old.

“As a breastfeeding mom, I have also had to endure expressing milk in the unlikeliest of places—the most memorable of which was in a van on a dumpsite with mountains of garbage around me—because I had to be there on a learning mission for CSR (corporate social responsibility) work. I try to take these challenges in stride, learn from and be better [from] them,” Malvar shares.

P&G also embraces a relatively flexible working schedule. Even before the pandemic, P&G already had a hybrid work setup, with employees allowed to work from home once a week. This increased to two times a week after the pandemic.

“I love work-from-home days and being able to have meals with my children and unplug from meetings with some quality cuddle time and/or being able to help them with projects or homework,” she says.

As women have to take on various responsibilities at home while also doing challenging roles at work, this leaves many women frustrated if they are unable to manage all of their tasks.

“I see a lot of women struggling with self- or community-imposed pressures: the pressure of being the perfect mom with the perfect kids who are all behaved and do well in school while, at the same time, having the perfect career, never making mistakes and impressing all of their colleagues at work,” she says.

“I think we should always challenge our notion of what it means to be a good wife or partner, a good mom and a good boss/worker. Hopefully, this will allow us to release unrealistic expectations of what we should be doing.” INQ