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Thick face, black heart: Womenâs courage in and out of corporate world
Stock image of a woman using a laptop.
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Thick face, black heart: Women’s courage in and out of corporate world

Gina dela Vega-Cruz (Philstar.com) - March 30, 2021 - 3:39pm

As a woman, I feel privileged to have grown and developed my career and leadership skills in the Philippines first before I ventured out overseas. Essentially a matriarchal society, the country carries and transfers much of its respect for the clan matriarch and women in the family, in general, to the workplace. This has given me confidence and allowed me to flex my leadership muscles so much more expansively.

While I believe Filipinas can ideally take a quantum leap in terms of taking the helm at many more of the top corporations, there is no denying that Filipino women in the corporate world hold an enviable, if not exalted, position on the leadership stage. We do not struggle as much as our foreign counterparts in proving ourselves to break the so-called glass ceiling. We, Filipinas, have been smashing that glass for years and doing a fabulous job while we are it. We get the recognition that we deserve, too.

I was a job-hopper in my youth. I know my resume holds some kind of record from among my generation in the number of roles I held. Except for my posts as a TV and radio newscaster and public service program host - which I pursued simultaneously with my corporate career - I would often hold on to a role for only two or three years maximum and then hop on to my next adventure. This allowed me to garner more or less 15 roles in a span of only two decades because I even held some simultaneously.

My well-meaning parents used to advise me that a rolling stone gathers no moss. I joke now that I was ahead of my time and turned out to be a “millennial” in how I valued the permanence of work or even how I considered what stability meant. Not many knew I was intentional about my moves. What outwardly seemed like restlessness was, in fact, a determination on my part to gather as much experience as I could from diverse industries. This strategy has proven to be invaluable in strengthening my expertise in corporate affairs and crisis management.

Not many may have taken the same route, but I think I know whereof I speak when I say that the work environment in the Philippines has been predominantly encouraging, supportive and safe for me and many of my female contemporaries. I have worked in both government and the private sector, in local and multinational companies, and found myself able to contribute, assert, and voice my opinions and views as firmly as I wanted to, or as often as I mustered enough courage to do so.

And so, herein lies the qualification. We, Filipinas, will generally be given the opportunity to let our voice be heard but that opportunity will only be as good as the degree and extent to which we allow ourselves to rise, be seen, and be brave, bold, and unapologetic about who we are, who we have become, and the strong beliefs, views, and principles that we hold. 

I remember a former boss who, on my first day at work, handed me a hard copy of the book, “Thick Face, Black Heart: The Warrior Philosophy for Conquering Challenges in Business and in Life” by Chin-Ning Chu. I almost choked upon reading the first two modifiers – thick and black. I thought it was some cunning, scheming and unscrupulous Machiavellian system I had to adopt to survive corporate life.

It turned out to be more of a playbook on how to become a courageous leader whether you are male or female. However, I think it is a manifesto that better serves us women. It is a reminder of the major force that we can be in boardrooms, executive and management committees, or any role we occupy, if we not only remain steadfast to our values but also be brave, staunch and active defenders of those values. We women can serve as the corporate conscience, if needed, to businesses that may too often, in their short-sightedness, be focused mainly only on making profits, taking shortcuts and sweeping the big issues under the rug.

On the surface, “thick face” means exactly what we Filipinos would interpret the phrase to be, i.e. kapal ng mukha. The concept, however, goes several notches higher in that it becomes an armor that will insulate you from the negative opinions of others. It is a mindset that allows you to put away self-doubt, limitations – both those set upon you by others as well as those you impose upon yourself, - and criticisms to fulfill what you have set out to do. 

Meanwhile, “black heart” is not as evil, amoral, or unconscionable as the phrase might connote. In the philosophy, Black Heart is the single-mindedness to carry out any action that is right as well as necessary, without regard for how the consequences will affect some individuals or parties. It may sound ruthless, but it is not necessarily evil. In fact, applied according to its good intentions, black heart is what would enable anyone to speak up, speak out, and call out misdemeanors, arrogance and foolhardiness, to mention just a few. 

A thick face and a black heart, according to the author, are what will serve as your shield and spear in the corporate jungle, in business and in life. To simplify, they encapsulate the meaning and manifestation of true courage which is what leaders need to exhibit if others are to follow them.

The workplace is rife with groupthinkers and sycophants and, thus, we need leaders who are fearless in their stance and undaunted by the arrows that may be thrown their way. It is a delicate balancing act and, having encountered so many myself, I know it would not be easy. However, it can be done. The rewards are high both for you as a leader and the organization and people you are trying to lead.

Warren Buffet once said, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who has been swimming naked.” This pandemic crisis has exposed those who were unprepared as leaders for crisis times. It presented, however, opportunities that heretofore did not exist for unheralded individuals to shine and exhibit rare leadership skills. They are resourceful, creative, bold. They are undaunted, fearless, intense. They may not know it but already they are thick face black heart practitioners. And many of them are women!

Allow me to put forward my hypothesis as to why – many of us women may have already been exercising the thick face black heart philosophy in various degrees in our personal lives, in our family circles, in our communities. Philippine society has allowed us to flourish in this manner, fortunately for many of us. When the crisis came, the circumstances simply forced us to level up, amplify the still unlabelled method and bring it simultaneously to so many areas of our lives. 

The thick-faced, black-hearted Filipino woman is out there. She can be found in the city centers as well as the farthest outskirts of the countryside, in offices as well as homes, in the multitudes as well as in solitude. She is not merely surviving but thriving. She is taking the bull by the horns when no one is leading. She is keeping this nation together. 

 

Gina dela Vega-Cruz finished BA Communication, cum laude, from the University of the Philippines. She was a former broadcast journalist who simultaneously worked in public relations and became vice president for Corporate Affairs of two international organizations. She also became the director for communications and marketing of the Group of Eight, the elite coalition of Australia's leading universities. She is now a consultant and professional speaker. You may reach her at delavegacruz.gina@gmail.com.
 

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