What made me smile in last Sunday’s Inquirer was Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Undersecretary Rowena Guevara who said that gender equality makes our country the “best place” for female scientists. I have seen firsthand how, as research and development head, Guevara’s no-nonsense approach, derived from her engineering background, enables projects to be implemented well.
The DOST reports that from 1990 to 2015, women in science and tech increased 148 percent. Most were in health (nursing, midwifery), with the lowest proportions in mathematics, statistics, architecture and related professions.
I have taught math for three decades, and though several female students excel (Roselle Ambubuyog graduated top of her batch despite her visual impairment), males still significantly outnumber females. But women are making an impact in various science endeavors. My colleagues Elvie de Lara and Reena Estuar collaborate with the Department of Health on COVID-19 models; my student Reina Reyes uses data science in similar efforts to aid development, after making international contributions to astrophysics. My friend Maribel Garcia, a fellow science writer, heads The Mind Museum. Stephanie Sy, who advises the DOST in emerging technologies, founded Thinking Machines to help organizations make data-driven decisions. I have yet to meet her, but my son said he loved the learnings and admired the culture during his internship with the company.
Women have long held leadership positions in education. Our vice president in Ateneo Loyola Schools is Marlu Vilches, and through the years, I have also interacted with remarkable women: former acting Education Secretary Fe Hidalgo; former DOST Secretary Ester Alabastro; former DOST Science Education Institute head Ester Ogena; former Far Eastern University (FEU) president Lydia Echauz; former Miriam College president Tatti Licuanan and current University of the East president Ester Garcia, both former Commission on Higher Education chairs; and former University of the Philippines (UP) president Emer Roman. Guevara herself was UP’s first female science dean.
Women have also made their mark in business. In a discussion on family firms, Ateneo’s management dean Luis Dumlao said that the Philippines ranked higher than the United States or United Kingdom in gender equity; we are the top Asian country out of 156 nations in the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s 2021 Report.
Friends I featured in this column include Grace Tan Caktiong, a partner to husband Tony in Jollibee (March 4, 2021 issue); Robina Gokongwei-Pe (Dec. 7, 2018) and Catherine Tiu Tan (Feb. 6, 2014), who work harmoniously with their siblings in Robinson’s and Akari, respectively. Joji Gotianun-Yap helms Filinvest, and when I complimented her brother Jonathan for choosing their only sister as the successor, he smiled, “She’s the best of us.” Gotianun-Yap’s daughter Isabelle is a vibrant member of the third generation.
But much remains to be done. According to WEF, even if we had two female presidents (with another strong contender to be the next), women hold few legislature and cabinet posts. Less than 50 percent of women are in the labor force, with persistent gender disparities in income, and women shoulder the bulk of family care in the pandemic. Many daughters still receive less inheritance, pay or recognition than their brothers in small- and medium-size enterprises.
Back to Guevara, whose accomplishments serve as inspiration to all Filipinos. In my recent course for FEU Institute of Technology, I set the record straight on the first day, by debunking the myth that men have an edge in math learning. Male civil engineering and IT majors were more than double the women in the class, but at the course’s end, several students—whatever their gender—overcame anxiety and grew in skills and confidence, to hopefully serve our society in the future.
Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at Lazada or Shopee, or e-book at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at email@example.com.
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