Sylvia Okinlay-Paraguya has been the Chief Executive Officer of the National Confederation of Cooperatives (NATCCO), Philippines, since 2009. Her 24 years of professional work experience include 3 years as a management trainee in the biggest steel plant in the Philippines and 21 years in development work, mostly within the cooperative movement.
Sylvia Okinlay-Paraguya granted us an interview during which she explained the role of women in management positions and how women can gain better access to senior positions within cooperatives. Moreover, she pointed out the fact that organizations have to be sensitized to ensure that gender equality and gender balance exist.
This interview is a prelude to the speech Ms. Okinlay-Paraguya will be giving on October 10 at the 2012 Summit.
Cooperatives stand out from corporations in many respects. However, in terms of the number of women in management positions, particularly upper management, cooperatives are no further ahead than any other business. Why do you suppose that is?
Women can only occupy upper management positions if they have the required skills and if the organization provides the opportunity. A woman’s ability to take on a higher position hinges on her competence to handle the job and the support systems that give her the assurance that the family is well taken care of as she takes on more responsibility. The support system includes a family in which household responsibilities are divided between the husband and wife. The implementation of support systems is essential.
The capacity of the organization to provide opportunities for women is also a reflection of the culture in a specific country. Organizations have to be sensitized so that gender equality and gender balance can be achieved at all levels of the organization.
How can women gain better access to senior positions within cooperatives?
Women should have the required skills for the position. Therefore, women should undertake skill building programs to prepare them to move up the ladder. Women should also search for leadership opportunities, even outside the organization. This will help them develop more leadership skills. When opportunities for women arise, prepared or not, they should seize them immediately and catch up along the way.
The organization should be sensitized to ensure that gender equality exists. It must emphasize the importance of ensuring the participation of men and women as there is much to gain if balance is achieved.
Of course, there are some success stories. Women like Dame Pauline Green (ICA), Kathy Bardswick (Co-operators), Monique F. Leroux (Desjardins), and you have risen to the upper echelons of some very large organizations. Can you tell us a bit more about your career path?
I am a licensed chemical engineer. I hold a Master of Business Management from one of the best management schools in Asia, the Asian Institute of Management, located in Makati City, Philippines. The students at AIM come from all over Asia, thus exposing me to diverse cultures. My experience in the corporate world includes my 3-year stint at the National Steel Corporation, Philippines, prior to AIM and the 6-month work experience at the World Trade Center. At National Steel Corporation, I was the sole female in a group of 16 management trainees. I was an assistant manager at the World Trade Center. By 1991 I joined the NGO sector and focused on rural development. In 1993, I began working within the cooperative movement. By 2000, I was appointed CEO of the MASS-SPECC Cooperative Development Center, a Mindanao based federation of cooperatives. In 2009, I was appointed CEO of the National Confederation of Cooperatives. While working as CEO within these organizations, I held the position of Chairperson and/or Director within a number of non-government organizations and special bodies. I was Chair of the Mindanao Coalition of Development NGO Networks. Then President Arroyo appointed me Co-Chair of the Regional Development Council, a body composed of elected officials, government officials and NGOs. The RDC oversees regional development. From 2004 to 2008, I was a member of the government panel negotiating with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Today, I represent NATCCO within national organizations.
One of the goals of the International Summit of Cooperatives is to have participants adopt a common declaration. What is the one key point you would like to see included?
Gender equality, ensuring women’s participation in the development processes; recognizing that women comprise maybe more than half of the members of cooperatives.