Last January, SM Investments Corporation was one of 380 companies across 11 sectors included in the 2021 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI). This was the second time SM was cited in the said index, which measures gender equality across five pillars: female leadership and talent pipeline, equal pay and gender pay parity, inclusive culture, sexual harassment policies, and pro-women brand.
And it’s not surprising. As of December 2019, women comprised 63% of the SM workforce, occupying 59% of senior management positions and 65% of middle management. More recently, SM became an official signatory to the UN Women’s Women Empowerment Principles (WEP), which further enhance a more equitable and inclusive workplace.
In celebration of International Women’s Month this March, we are featuring six amazing women across different SM companies. Working quietly behind the scenes, their roles in the organization are diverse, as are their challenges and experiences on a day-to-day basis. Here, they share with us what keeps them inspired; as well as their management styles, their tips for other women at work, and their thoughts on women empowerment.
COO, Fast Retailing (UNIQLO)
“I have learned that gender should not hold you back from making the world a better place. If you have something to contribute to society, then you should share it with everyone.”
As the only female Chief Operating Officer globally in Uniqlo, Geraldine says she is privileged to be part of two iconic companies – SM, and its joint venture partner, top international brand Uniqlo. She has been with SM’s retail group for more than 22 years, starting out with Baby Co, then with Watsons, and now with Uniqlo, which she co-manages with the Expat COO on Sales, Operations, and Marketing.
- Her management style. “For me, leadership doesn’t have a one size fits all solution. I have come to realize that different people require varying management styles.”
“I also believe that women can develop a more well-rounded workforce. When it comes to accomplishing goals, women’s traits like empathy, intuition, and optimism bring out the best in our employees.”
- Tips for women at work. “Be someone people want to work with! Always behave with integrity and kindness.”
“Do a bit more than what is expected of you. Take on things you’ve never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist.”
- What does International Women’s Day mean to you? “This is a reminder for us to celebrate every type of woman and women’s achievements all over the world. Women are strong individuals, who can overcome any challenge. We continue to play essential roles in society, and I am happy working with SM, a company that promotes women’s empowerment.”
GRACE EVANGELINE M. STA. ANA
Executive Vice President
“Beyond the privilege of being part of this dynamic organization, I find meaningful work in addressing one of life’s basic needs – building homes and communities.”
Grace has been with SMDC for the past 11 years, starting out as a project director in 2010. Her work entails the development of integrated communities, particularly residential hubs. Focusing on providing a better lifestyle for Filipino families, her team has led the launch of over 40 residential projects, translating to more than 100,000 residential units in Metro Manila and the provincial areas.
- Her management style. “As a woman, it is my nature to be nurturing. I share with my team the strategic direction of the company and explain to them their respective roles in achieving these goals. I always point out that there are no big or small roles, our roles are equally important with everyone else.”
“I also like to teach my team new things or techniques in analyzing things. In the process of teaching them, I in turn also learn from them.”
- Tips for women at work. “Learn to prioritize. As women, we wear different hats – mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, employee, a leader. This can get overwhelming but if our priorities are clear then we get to play each role happily and meaningfully.”
- What does International Women’s Day mean to you? “International Women’s Day re-affirms the value and achievements of all women – whether it be at home or at work; in pursuit of a career goal or finding fulfillment as a daughter, sister, wife, or mother. To me, it is a day of celebration and thanksgiving – particularly for the opportunities, successes, and even failures that has shaped my life as a woman.”
FELANIE L. LIM
Vice President, Merchandising
The SM Store
“I personally love to shop, so during our buying sessions, I’m technically shopping for our target market making the latest shoes and bags designs available for them to choose from. It is something I enjoy.”
As Vice President of Merchandising, Felanie and her team facilitate the Shoes and Bags department’s regular buying process – forecasting inventory, reading the demands and trends, and fulfilling them when appropriate. She has been with the company for 23 years and feels honored and privileged to be part of the team working on the category that started it all for SM – shoes.
- Her management style. “I lead and manage my team based on how I want to be led and managed. My approach is democratic in nature, and make it a point to consult and collaborate with my team because their thoughts and viewpoints are important to the achievement of our goal.”
“Being in the shoes team also allowed me to work with Mr. Henry Sy, Sr. and I always looked forward to our mentoring session every Saturday in his Makati office. Tatang taught me to value my work and think of it as my own. “Success is not just good luck,” he would share with us. “It’s a combination of hard work, good credit standing, the right opportunity, readiness, and timing.”
- Tips for women at work. “Work hard and be the kind of woman that adds value to people around you. Work hard with elegance and grace.”
- What does International Women’s Day mean to you? “It’s about recognizing the achievements of women around the world and raising awareness about gender equality.”
DIANA R. DIONISIO
Vice President – China Projects
“Nothing is constant in this world. What is important is to quickly learn from it, adapt, and innovate.”
A pioneer in SM’s China projects, Diana joined the company 21 years ago. Today, as Vice President, she is responsible for managing its Finance and Treasury functions and also supervises other departments such as Business Development, IT, Systems, and Legal. SM currently has seven operating malls in China and two more under construction.
- Her management style: “Women have an eye for detail and this is crucial in my line of work. We also have a more collaborative approach with our colleagues and this encourages new ideas and better solutions from different stakeholders. Our warmth and personal touch also foster better working relationships and this, in turn, provides for better efficiency and productivity.”
“With my department spanning two countries, cultural and legal differences are inevitable. As such, I have to explain and convince both sides to adapt and work around those differences.”
- Tips for women at work: “Always think that women, just like men, are human beings created equal by God. Your gender is not an obstacle for you to reach higher and better goals in life if you desire.”
- What does International Women’s Day mean to you? “It’s a day to recognize and honor the achievements and contributions of women, not only in the family but as leaders in the industry, society, and country as a whole. Being a woman is not an issue both in the Philippines and China, as both countries have women assuming leadership roles.”
SHIRLEY C. ONG
Executive Vice President
SM Leisure Resort Residences
“I learn so many things from the bosses and the people I work with. They let me see things from a different point of view, look at the bigger picture, think outside the box, do things differently, and find opportunities in every crisis.”
Shirley, who has been with SM for 12 years, manages the overall operations of four tourism-oriented premier leisure developments – Costa del Hamilo, Highlands Prime, Intercontinental Development Corporation, and Belle Corporation Real Estate Unit.
- Her management style. “I try my best to share with the people directly working with me the virtues that are important to me- integrity, honesty, hard work, fairness, and discipline.”
“As a woman, I can show my softer side, and lead with motherly care. I can be strong and gentle at the same time.”
- Tips for women at work. “Your faith in God will keep you going. Believe in yourself. Work hard.”
- What does International Women’s Day mean to you? “It is a recognition of gender equality that women today are enjoying; women’s contribution and achievements in the family and in different fields like economics and politics.”
MARIA AGNES C. PACIS
Vice President and GM – SMX Convention Centers
SM Hotels and Conventions
“Perseverance Pays. Hard work must be accompanied by “heart work” for you to succeed. Like any professional organization, you’re only as good as the team you lead.”
Agnes has been with SMX Hotels and Conventions for six years after spending a good two decades working in international hotel chains like Shangri-La, Sheraton, and Hyatt located in countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Fiji, Australia, and Myanmar. As the Vice President and GM of SMX Convention Centers, she handles all 6 existing properties of SMX nationwide overseeing the operations and profitability of all SMX Convention Centers.
- Her management style. “I have a collaborative and highly communicative leadership style. I believe strongly that there is nothing that proper communication can’t fix. I do not like micro-managing but I adjust my style to what I believe will work with a particular staff member.”
“I apply the principle of the 5 Love Languages at work by understanding what “language” a member of the team will understand best and adjust my leadership style accordingly.”
“The natural ability of a woman to nurture and emotionally connect to her team members has surely helped in building the kind of team we have now.”
- Tips for women at work. “Be intentional in all that you do, be your authentic self, play to your strengths, and don’t take it personally!”
- What does International Women’s Day mean to you? “It is a day of recognizing the contribution of women of all creeds and races to the society globally. It is a day to celebrate a woman’s worth in affirmation of gender equality/parity.”