Women are breaking gender barriers in the Philippines where an international survey shows that they hold half of all senior management positions, one of the highest levels in the world. Filipinos say that finding only verifies a long-standing strong female role in Philippine culture. Douglas Bakshian reports from Manila.
Banker, financial director, managing director, senator and even president - these are just some of the senior jobs filled by women in the Philippines.
A recent Grant Thornton International Business Report says women hold half of the senior management jobs in the country, the highest rate in the study of 32 nations representing 81 percent of the world economy.
Brazil was second with women in 42 percent of senior positions, and Japan was last with seven percent.
Another striking figure is that 97 percent of businesses in the Philippines have women in senior management positions, the highest in the poll. Once again Japan is at the bottom with 25 percent, followed by the Netherlands (27 percent), Luxembourg (37 percent), Germany (41 percent) and Italy (42 percent).
At her 16th-story office in the heart of Manila's Makati business district, Dina Salonga heads a 26-person office that provides information technology services to business. She is managing director of SQL Wizard, which she co-founded in 1996. The 48-year-old Salonga says men in the Philippines are used to women in authority.
"I think that the Philippine society is basically a matriarchal one," she says. " And that men don't really mind reporting to a higher authority who is female. So that in the home the children, sometimes even the husband, would take orders, if that's right word for it, from the wife. So they don't really mind reporting to a woman manager."
The Philippines is often portrayed as having a macho culture in which men dominate. But Salonga says this is only a façade and women control things from behind the scenes.
"I think from the outside that's what the men want the other people to perceive them to be. But inside the home I think it's really the woman who enjoys the power," she says. "And sometimes they just make the husbands feel that they are the ones who are powerful. So they do it in a really subtle way and they get their way around it."
Liza Maza is head of the Gabriella party, named after a woman revolutionary who died in the fight against Spanish colonial rule. While she says the feminist movement has helped women advance, she notes that Philippine culture has a strong female component. She points out that the symbol of the country is a woman.
"The Filipino society looks up to women. Our image of the Philippines, Inang Filipina, is a woman. Unlike the United States, which is Uncle Sam," she notes.
But it is not all culture; economics plays a big role. Mina Lim, 49, has been finance director for the software company Oracle in the Philippines for seven years. She says the desire for a good living standard has also helped women rise in the working place.
"I think it's economics. It allows you a lifestyle where, in a family, there is the wife and the husband working and they put together resources, and it allows them a certain lifestyle that they can enjoy," she says.
The Philippine Labor Department says women have outnumbered men in executive positions for several years. The department says there were more than two million female executives in 2006, compared with just over one and a half million men in top jobs.
The department credits education. Government data show that of the 13 million women workers in the country in 2006, one out of three had attended university while only one out of five men did so.
What do the men have to say about all this?
Dan Roces, chief of research for People Management Association, says women are accepted in business.
"There really isn't any discrimination," he says. "We really tend to trust our businesses with [to] females. Our culture is more maternalistic. We tend to trust our women more because we were taken care of by our mothers. So we really don't mind if we take orders from them."
Ramon Casiple, a Manila political analyst who also follows cultural trends, says Filipino women participate strongly at most levels of society.
"Men recognize a place for women outside of the home," he says. " So you may have women for example as community leaders, women in various occupations that are usually [held] only by men. But we find it a usual thing that if women can excel in the same occupation, then they are accepted."
Women also make up about half the estimated eight million Filipinos who work overseas and send home money to support their families, another position of economic authority. They have become major contributors to the Philippine economy, and increasingly have taken on a bigger political role.