Bunye: Women entrepreneurs lead the way to transformation and recovery

IN TIME for the National Women's Month, the Ayala Enterprise Circle (AEC), in cooperation with BPI Business Banking, held an all-women entrepreneurs' forum titled, "Leading Women Entrepreneurs in the Digital Economy." A distinguished panel of women leaders came together to discuss both the challenging and rewarding roles of being an entrepreneur in the digital economy today.

The Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) were among the hardest-hit sectors during the Covid-19 pandemic. Several businesses were forced to shut down or reduce their operations. But we also heard about the inspiring stories of women who pivoted their businesses, and rose above adversities.

As we talk about women entrepreneurship, we also pause to reflect on Ayala's initiatives in pushing for gender equality, diversity, and inclusion. In her opening remarks, BPI Deputy Head for Marketing Mariana Zobel de Ayala said the Ayala Group's drive for productivity has always been through inclusivity.

She said, "While we recognize that gender equality, diversity, and inclusion remain complex and sensitive issues in the country, and in the world at large, we at Ayala believe that these are principles of respect for one's fellow person -- regardless of gender or background -- and fairness in recruitment and opportunities for growth and advancement."

BPI Core Retail Head Maria Cristina "Ginbee" Go, who moderated the forum, said women are never the type to back down. "Women entrepreneurs possess in them that courage, sensitivity, [that] ability to nurture and take risks. I salute all women out there who continue to manage both home and business successfully throughout the challenges and struggles. To all women entrepreneurs out there, never feel that you are alone. We in the Ayala Group, through programs like the Ayala Enterprise Circle and companies like BPI, are here to support you in your endeavors to succeed as entrepreneurs."

Since 2014, female employees outnumber their male counterparts by 31 percent in the entire Ayala Group. 44 percent of the company's senior leaders are women, holding key executive roles such as executive vice president, director, general manager, and even president of some subsidiaries.

Sixty-seven percent of the employees of the BPI Group are women, and 64 percent of these employees hold officer-level positions. Forty-seven percent of Globe Telecom's employees are women. At least six are among Globe's key executives.

Ayala Land is one of the founding members of the Philippine Business Coalition for Women's Empowerment and has earned a certification recognizing its commitment to gender equality.

Overcoming the pandemic

When the pandemic struck, not a single business was fully prepared to handle the impact of the crisis. Many entrepreneurs were losing money, trying their best to stay alive in the game.

Sherill Ramos Quintana, founder and CEO of Oryspa Spa Solutions Inc.; Roxanne Farillas, Co-Founder and vice president of Plains and Prints; and Aileen Suy, COO of Suy Chicken Corporation, joined GinbeeGo in the forum and talked about their key roles in transforming and growing their respective businesses, as well as the many ways they pivoted during the pandemic.

Farillas said Plains and Prints adapted by strengthening their e-commerce and making sure to stay relevant by continuously improving their marketing efforts, creating new collections, and maintaining customer service. The company also maximized the use of cashless payment.

"The pandemic is actually a game changer. It gave us a time to reflect, reset, re-strategize, and restart. We also shifted by focusing more on e-commerce. Since the malls are closed, we had to make sure that we're focused on the e-commerce. We needed to strengthen it and think of ways on how to make it better," Farillas said.

Unlike Plains and Prints, the products of Suy Chicken Corporation are considered essential but even businesses in the commodity side were also greatly affected by the pandemic. "It was difficult to move products from one point to another because of the lockdown restrictions. Markets and restaurants were closed, tourism was halted. Sales really dropped because of these," Suy said.

Luckily, the company saw opportunities to expand and diversify their products during the pandemic. Aside from the dressed chickens, Suy Chicken Corporation is now offering ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat products, and it also ventured in the canning business.

Oryspa Spa Solutions Inc. pivoted by selling sanitizing products, too, and by making use of their in-house riders, allowing them to deliver and respond to their customers' needs. "Last year we were all bleeding. But it was also very insightful. And migrating online helped us create complementary experiences for our clients," Quintana said.

Meanwhile, Go explained why brand building is very important. "Brands that thrive are those that care for their clients beyond selling. Those brands promoting social responsibility, sustainability goals are actually thriving in this crisis... You can say that you have succeeded in building your brand if customers still look for you even in the midst of the pandemic."

Hats off to all these exceptional and enterprising women who displayed what is needed to rise in this unprecedented crisis. I hope 2021 will be much better for their respective businesses and careers.

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