Isabel Feliciano-Wendleken, MANAGING PRINCIPAL, CAPCO HONG KONG
I grew up in a matriarchal society, where women are encouraged to work. People don’t always expect that of a developing country in South-East Asia, but in some ways Filipino attitudes to women are more progressive than other, wealthier countries I’ve lived and worked in.
As a child, I looked up to my mother who was a corporate lawyer, and originally thought I’d pursue the same path. After graduate school in New York, however, I decided that I wanted to work in financial services and then found my way first into banking, then management consulting.
One of the most valuable things I have learnt in my career was that keeping quiet is never an advantage. Especially as a woman. A female mentor once told me to “take a seat at the table and have a voice.”
Early on, I sometimes held myself back in meetings. I think this was because of a combination of two things: 1) In Asia, respect for elders is deeply ingrained and it was frowned upon to challenge views of superiors; and 2) as a young analyst, I didn’t have the confidence to share my view or perspective when I didn’t have all the facts. In retrospect, this was counterproductive and I now know that this is a common female behaviour, especially at junior levels. The problem is that women’s measured responses can be misinterpreted as hesitation or even passivity.
In the business world, being assertive to the point of aggressive is often rewarded, but that’s not expected of women in everyday life. Men are rarely described as ‘bossy’, for example.
But I don’t dwell on the negatives, especially when I’ve been fortunate enough to work in four cities spanning two continents over the last 15+ years, (Manila, New York, Washington DC, and Hong Kong), alongside such supportive managers and clients – both men and women – who have inspired me to be a better professional and leader.
I think working mothers can set a good example to children. I have two young girls under the age of six that see me go to the office every day. I strive to model a good work ethic whilst balancing this with life’s demands. Of course, it’s down to personal choice and circumstance. Interestingly, in the Philippines and Hong Kong, mothers tend to re-enter the workplace quite quickly because full-time nannies are culturally accepted (and more affordable too). Far more so than in the U.S.
On the other hand, big corporates in the U.S. and Europe tend to offer more HR benefits, such as flexible working policies, part-time work options, and childcare vouchers that can help parents with the balancing act of working and raising a family. It’s encouraging to see that more Asian companies in the financial services sector are starting to do this too.
I do feel like change is coming. Women need support network to succeed and I am proud to work for a company with an open, meritocratic culture that also sees diversity as a competitive advantage. I look forward to helping further advance this in Capco Hong Kong, and broadly Asia.