Insular Life is promoting female empowerment in the Philippines

  • Nina D. Aguas is the executive chairperson of Insular Life, the largest domestic life insurance company in the Philippines.
  • Last year Aguas partnered with the International Finance Corporation to launch InLife Sheroes, a program designed to help Filipino women in areas such as financial literacy and health education.
  • So far, the program has reached close to 3 million Filipino women, almost three times its original target.
  • Aguas has championed female inclusion at Insular Life, where 12 of the 19-strong senior leadership team are female, including the CEO.
  • Because of her work, Business Insider named Aguas to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming finance in Asia.
  • Visit Business Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

With a 30-year career in banking and finance, Nina D. Aguas has broken more than a few glass ceilings, leading major financial institutions both in the Philippines and across Asia Pacific. Currently executive chairperson at Insular Life, the Philippines’ largest domestic life insurance company, Aguas is continuing to make huge strides for corporate diversity and equality of opportunity. In March last year, Insular Life partnered with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to launch InLife Sheroes, an initiative that aims to recognize, educate, and empower Filipino women in areas such as financial management, business networking, and health and well-being. Business Insider spoke with Aguas to discuss the success of the program, as well her thoughts on her career so far in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

Business Insider: What was the motivation for Insular Life to launch the InLife Sheroes initiative? 

Aguas: When we look at this in the global context, there is a huge imbalance of men-women ratio in key leadership posts. While numbers are improving, women still only hold 15% of board seats around the world. In Asia, the number of women holding key leadership positions are even lower than the global score. I look at this initiative as an opportunity for us women, Filipino women, to expand and dream farther than our reach. The goal is to have our point of view out there so that important decisions that lead to global policies and are adopted as local practices are not skewed or are not made in deference to male leaders.

Business Insider: What do you hope the outcome will be? 

Aguas: InLife Sheroes has four pillars — financial literacy, health and wellness education, women-specific solutions,  and access to aocial and business networks. Our mission is to address women’s needs by supporting and protecting their overall well- being. Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are given access to training and a huge network to earn and learn from and to blossom and grow. InLife Sheroes is a huge and wide open gate that helps more women — to borrow Michelle Obama’s word — to become.

Business Insider: Can you give some examples of specific initiatives and the value they bring to Filipino women?

Aguas: Under the financial education pillar we first launched a nationwide landmark study on women which provided insights on the Filipino woman’s degree of independence in making financial decisions. These insights contributed to the development of our financial education course for women. We believe that through financial education, we can help Filipinas make informed decisions that can improve their economic well-being and help them achieve their financial goals. 

With the health and wellness Education pillar, we educate women on the health risks that they face at different life stages to help them achieve optimum health. This education is delivered through the InLife Sheroes website and YouTube channel, and through partnerships with organizations delivering actual medical missions and health and wellness seminars to the grassroots level of society. If we can help women live healthy lives, women will be in a better position to achieve economic empowerment. 

Business Insider: How is the initiative managing to connect and engage with women? 

Aguas: Our three-year target was to touch one million lives. As as of end of October, just 18 months into the program, we have already reached 2,780,331 lives. Having reached our goal quite early inspires us to touch millions more. 

The global health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic forced us to take a pause for most of our financial literacy and Health and Wellness face-to-face events originally planned for the year. Yet, we found ways to still connect to people even during lockdowns, through online financial education and health and wellness workshops, webinars, virtual conferences, virtual awards and recognitions, and continuous uploads of useful articles and videos for women and girls as they face the challenges brought by the pandemic. 

Business Insider: You have been a trailblazer for women in business, particularly the financial sector. Have you always been conscious of a certain responsibility in this respect? 

Aguas: From the 1990s until now, diversity needed to be formally inducted into our institutions’ agenda, recognizing the intrinsic value of having different perspectives and disposition brought to the boardroom and senior leadership tables. I think I benefitted from that time. I always said I brought our diversity scores higher on two counts, on gender and ethnicity — female and Asian. I was also the head of diversity for Citibank Asia Pacific where we pursued specific strategies both tactical and long term to address diversity in the workplace. I had a lot of practice in a sense – I have become gender and color blind. I apply the same discipline and focus, create the same passion and excitement, the same judgment and common sense into the role as the men before me did. It’s the best person for the job, not about being male or female or in between. 

Business Insider: Insular Life has a strong gender balance at boardroom level. How did this come about? 

Aguas: As women slowly advanced within the organization, there was growing recognition of the value they bring around the table. I make sure we are in critical board committees so that our perspective and point of view are equally part of major decisions. We achieve balance and are not skewed one way or the other. 

Business Insider: What do you see as the business advantages of having a more diverse senior leadership team? 

Aguas: It provides diversity of thought and richer ideas and points of view. This helps bring
out superior and balanced decisions and strategy. For me personally, being a woman makes it easier to show compassion and empathy, not in a negative way, but our insights and instincts allow us to read and interpret events and circumstances naturally and these often strengthen a technical decision. 

I have worked with mostly male bosses and there was varying degree of professionalism, respect, breath of experience, brilliance and genius as well as disappointment, bad behavior, insecurity and crassness. I have seen the best and worst in statesmanship, disposition, confidence, and culture. The more vivid takeaways were the lessons I carried with me on who I did not want to be when my turn came up. 

Business Insider: What lessons would you have for young Filipino women starting off in the world of finance? 

Aguas: I have always marched to the beat of my own drum. As in a race, I try to avoid looking sideways and back, as no one person is the same. I heard this said once: do not let self-doubt neuter your ambitions. Your individuality makes you who you are and this must shine through. You will not have all the answers at any point — I still don’t — but have the courage to take on risks and live out your own dreams. Finally, family and relationships are important- keep your balance, you will be happier and the better for it.

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