The most important factor for developing women in the workplace is not just having a policy in place, but the ability of top management to get things done and actually implement the policy. 

Ms Keiko Nishioka, President of Hikari Kikai Seisakusho in Japan

In a small tin roof house in the Philippines, a group of women use crochet needles to sew recycled plastic bags into colorful fashion purses.  The purses, designed by an artist, end up on the shelves of upmarket ECHOstore Sustainable Lifestyle in downtown Manila—providing valuable income to these women and their families.

 

“We started ECHOstore in 2008 in Manila to offer market access to small producers throughout the Philippines and to bring our whole value chain under the sustainability umbrella,” said Ms Pacita Juan, Co-founder and President of ECHOstore.

 

“We work closely with our suppliers to help develop and test their products before they go to our store outlets,” said Ms Juan. “We bring the quality level of our suppliers up so they can appeal to more discerning consumers and ultimately help these small producers build a business and increase their income.”

 

Green fair trade for small women producers

 

85 per cent of ECHOstore’s supply chain are women. ECHOsi Foundation, the development arm of ECHOstore, assists these women suppliers by enhancing their products or processes or by introducing new designs and improving packaging and labelling.

 

“ECHOsi Foundation is part of an innovative Philippine-wide gender platform program called GREAT Women—Gender Responsive Economic Action for the Transformation (GREAT) of Women,” explained Jeannie Javelosa, Co-founder of ECHOstore and President of ECHOsi Foundation.

 

“After eight months of running the program in 2013, we were able to mentor 500 women suppliers in the Philippines,” added Ms Javelosa.

 

Vivencia Mamites, a traditional textile weaver from an indigenous tribe in the Mindanao region in the Philippines, received advice on product development, market preparedness and improvements on production processes for her abaca fibers and natural dyes.

 

“As a result of Echosi’s training and mentorship, I have 17 weavers to help weave textiles which ECHOstore is slowly exporting to the North American market,” said Ms Mamites. “The ECHOsi Foundation is also aligning me with other designers and retailers.”

 

Founded by a trio of Filipino women entrepreneurs, ECHOstore is a successful social enterprise and a green fair trade retail store showcased in a recent Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) report on the 50 Leading Companies for Women in the region.  Spearheaded by the APEC Policy Partnership on Women and the Economy, the companies recognized in the report were nominated and selected by APEC member economies and industry associations throughout the Asia-Pacific.

 

“In the report, we highlight 50 small and large Asia-Pacific companies that offer proven and effective ways to improve women’s economic participation, entrepreneurship and leadership,” explained Toshikazu Yazawa, Assistant Director of the APEC Office at the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, who managed the project.

 

For example, ECHOstore’s model of assisting women suppliers upgrade their product quality and marketability is currently being considered as a possible framework for replication by other APEC economies.

 

Leaking Pipeline

 

In addition to cultivating entrepreneurship, best practices in nurturing women leadership were also spotlighted in the recent APEC report.

 

“There are increasingly fewer numbers of women employed at each higher level within a company,” explained Yazawa. “This leaking pipeline phenomenon is a key challenge APEC is working to overcome.”

 

Eli Lilly and Company, a global biotechnology and pharmaceutical firm headquartered in the United States and award-winning company for working women, offers innovative programs to support women in their workforce—which are outlined in the APEC report.

 

“Women have been part of our company since we opened our doors in 1876,” said Bart Peterson, Senior Vice President of Eli Lilly and Company. “We have a come a long way since with women now holding one-third of Lilly’s Board of Director positions.”

 

Key to Lilly’s success has been the introduction of a female leadership program that identifies and cultivates young female leaders early in their career.

 

As a result of this and other initiatives, Lilly was named in 2014 as one of the 100 Best Companies by Working Mother Magazine for 20 years in a row and has been recognized as a Top 50 Companies for Executive Women for the fifth year by the National Association of Female Executives in the United States.

 

Flexibility in the workplace is also a critical element to female career development at Lilly.

 

“I am grateful to Lilly for being flexible and caring enough to support my changing work-life balance needs over time,” said Terese Cole, Manager of Pipeline and Access Planning in Lilly Australia and New Zealand.  

 

“Currently, I work a four-day week in the Pipeline and Access Planning leadership role which supports my desire to spend time with my young family, as well as enable me to continue to deliver value for the business and progress my career in an industry I am passionate about.”

 

In 2004 in Japan, Lilly introduced the first phase of a female leadership diversity strategy. New programs to mentor female leaders in Lilly’s Japan offices included career workshops, luncheons and interview sessions. Lilly Japan also implemented work-from-home programs, child care support and child care financial support.

 

“As a result of this initiative, we achieved 30 per cent female managers in non-sales roles and Lilly Japan was nominated as the 14th Best Company for Women in Japan by Nikkei Women Magazine in 2014,” added Peterson.

 

Gender-free, Generation-free and Global

 

Another company in Japan, Hikari Kikai Seisakusho, was also recognized in the APEC 50 Leading Companies for Women report. As a machine tool manufacturer and small business in a traditionally male-dominated industry, Hikari successfully increased its percentage of women workers.

 

Aided by a woman President at its helm since 2001, the ratio of women employees has steadily grown from below 20 per cent to around 30 per cent today.

 

“The most important factor for developing women in the workplace is not just having a policy in place, but the ability of top management to get things done and actually implement the policy,” explained Ms Keiko Nishioka, President of Hikari Kikai Seisakusho.

 

“If the top management says that gender does not matter, then it has to walk the talk.”

 

Under Nishioka’s leadership, Hikari established human resource guidelines that emphasize the three G’s: Gender-free, Generation-free and Global.  A number of programs were launched including female recruitment initiatives, management training, and performance assessments that helped nurture women in the workforce. Today, female employees are now assigned to key areas across the company. For example, women at Hikari work as production managers, mechanical designers, manufacturing floor leaders and salespersons.

 

“Another important factor is improving the awareness of women themselves of their own potential,” explained Nishioka, who launched a management training school within Hikari and offers personal mentoring to her female employees.

 

“Even if given a chance at career enhancement, some women say ‘I’m not quite up for that.’ Changing this mind set and developing the confidence of women professionals is also an essential first step,” added Nishioka.

 

Culture of Inclusion

 

The APEC report recognizes successful corporate programs that have effectively enhanced women leadership and economic participation in the Asia-Pacific and offers opportunities for other organizations in the region to replicate these models.

 

“We don’t have a person or a talent to waste. A culture of inclusion is about making sure every person who works at Lilly feels comfortable, valued and respected. That’s when people give you the best. That’s when innovation happens,” concluded Peterson.

 

To find out more about all the companies featured, you can download the report on 50 Leading Companies for Women in APEC here.