Women shaping Philippine monetary policy

Keisha Ta-Asan - The Philippine Star
Women shaping Philippine monetary policy
Anita Linda Aquino and Rosalia de Leon

MANILA, Philippines — Women have made significant strides as leaders in the Philippine financial services industry even as challenges continue to persist. At the helm are two distinguished female members of the Monetary Board (MB) – the policy-setting body of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) –both of whom are breaking the bias for women in finance.

In July 2020, Anita Linda Aquino was appointed to the MB and made history by becoming the first female banker to assume the position. Along with her is Rosalia de Leon, who was the former national treasurer prior to her appointment in September last year.

“Significant strides have been made in advancing gender equality. I acknowledge the pioneering efforts of those who have elevated women’s rights and issues at home, in the workplace, and as citizens,” Aquino told The STAR.

“I commend the great efforts undertaken by companies and society at large in addressing different issues.”

Aquino had weathered the Asian financial crisis in 1997 during her time at Citibank’s Foreign Exchange Desk. She also hurdled the global financial crisis in 2008 while working at Citicorp Investment Bank Singapore Ltd. in Singapore. Most recently, she was a steady hand at the MB during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, De Leon has been a first-hand witness of how the BSP advocates for gender equality and women empowerment in the banking industry, especially as the MB, the highest policy-making arm of the central bank, now holds two female members.

“This level of female participation in the Monetary Board is at par with that recorded from 2005 to 2011 during the terms of MBM Nelly Villafuerte and MBM Juanita Amatong,” De Leon told The STAR.

She added that two female members is the highest level of female representation in the MB in Philippine central bank history.

De Leon was the treasurer of the Philippines from November 2012 to January 2015 and from February 2017 to September 2023, during which she directed the country’s borrowing, investment and capital market development policies.

She also served at the Department of Finance as undersecretary of the International Finance Group and as chief of staff to the Finance Secretary.

According to De Leon, the number of women holding executive positions in BSP management outnumber men at 62:58. In managerial positions, female representation stands at 511 compared to 326 men.

“Nevertheless, we eagerly await the breaking of the glass ceiling with the appointment of the first female governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas,” she said.

De Leon also noted that the Philippines has been making significant progress on the international stage when it comes to closing the gender gap. She cited the 2023 Global Gender Gap report, where the country ranked 16th out of 146 in terms of gender parity measured across economic participation, educational attainment, health and political empowerment.

For her part, Aquino said becoming a member of the MB marked another chapter in her journey.

“With nearly three decades of experience in the banking industry, transitioning to the public sector brings its own set of nuances. Leveraging my background working for global banks, along with international assignments in New York and Singapore, has enabled me to add to the richness of the discussions,” she said.

She also noted how she was entrusted with opportunities to craft policies that contribute to shaping history. “I take this responsibility with utmost seriousness, fully aware of the potential ripple effects our decisions may yield.”

But while progress has been made, the BSP remains cognizant of the challenges that women continue to face in the workforce, De Leon said.

One of these challenges is the responsibility of child bearing for women who are building a family. This, as mothers often take time off from work for extended periods.

“Undergoing this phase of a woman’s life is something that the management fully supports because while we value work output, we place a higher importance on employees’ holistic well-being,” De Leon said.

“For this reason, we also do our part in ensuring that the systems are in place to minimize disruptions in operations should female employees need to take a leave to attend to these matters,” she added.

Aquino said that while obstacles will continue to persist, the impact of these challenges would depend on individual circumstances.

“The defining aspect lies in how one turns them into opportunities. I eagerly anticipate a future where discussions focus on how men and women can both complement and compete on an equitable footing in the workplace,” she said.

De Leon said the BSP would continue to work as a team to deliver its mandate seamlessly and effectively serve the public.

“We come from different walks of life, and it is precisely these differences in our backgrounds that mold us into unique individuals, allowing us to offer different things to the organization that works synergistically when put together,” she said.

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