Know yourself, trust yourself, express yourself: Finding empowerment in education and community

by Eunice Braga, edited by Robin Traballo | February 24, 2023

PFIP’s 5th Leadership Forum highlights the power of self-awareness, relationships, and lifelong learning in creating strong, well-rounded LGBT+ leaders and advocates

What makes a community strong? It’s not just about bringing people together or keeping them connected. For communities like the Philippine Financial Industry Pride (PFIP), it’s also about preparing people to take on the mantle of leadership and grow into efficient and empathetic advocates. At a time when professionals are increasingly seeking out kinder, more inclusive workplaces, leaders—true leaders driven by values and a spirit of service—are in great demand. This desire to empower emerging leaders fueled this year’s Leader Lab Live, PFIP’s 5th Leadership Forum.

The PFIP Playbook is a critical resource for business managers and industry leaders looking to build safe and welcoming, diverse and inclusive, and ethical and sustainable organizations. Based on the experiences and expertise of leading private organizations in the Philippines today—all recognized employers of choice—the Playbook defines what’s possible within our current socio-legal landscape and directs stakeholders towards greater LGBT+ inclusion in our workplaces and beyond.

This year, PFIP invited storytellers, trainers, coaches, and professionals to share their knowledge and expertise with emerging leaders and students, all to help answer the question: How can LGBT+ leaders level up and become better advocates?

Know your why.

During the morning sessions, various speakers touched on the need for LGBT+ leaders to set their intention by uncovering your purpose. In his talk, People Ignite facilitator Wowie Wong highlighted the need for putting purpose first, noting that having a sense of purpose is valuable, especially when having important conversations.

“Whatever you do, I want you to start thinking about your why first,” he shared. “How do you know if you have the right why? Ask yourself five times.”

This was echoed in Gwendolyne Fourniol’s Pecha Kucha presentation, where she shared her advocacy of bridging educational gaps for underprivileged children in the country, starting with an education hub in Baseco. She was inspired by her parents’ love for education and their passion for ensuring that their own children had the resources they needed to make a life for themselves. Fourniol works with the mothers in the area to ensure that the education hub is responsive to the children’s needs and that it stays sustainable for the community. She urged the attendees to act driven by their own purpose and emphasized the need to continue giving back to our respective communities.

Own your story.

One of the prevailing themes of this year’s forum was owning your story. During the Leader Lab Live, there were also Pecha Kucha sessions where leaders and professionals shared their personal journeys, giving attendees a more intimate look into the lives of their peers and mentors.

In the morning Pecha Kucha presentations, Krista Melgarejo talked about their career journey, going from a Ph.D. student in marine science to handling communications for a software service company and managing podcasts. They urged the attendees to trust their journey, especially as their own careers take them on different twists and turns, as the skills and experiences they accumulate would benefit them, even if they can’t see it yet.

But owning our stories as LGBT+ people doesn’t mean just owning our career journeys. Sometimes, it’s also about owning and accepting the more painful part of our stories.

In his Pecha Kucha talk, Global Master Coach Myke Celis talked about the negative comments and isolation he felt in his youth being a young queer person in a less accepting environment. Initially, he used it to fuel his academic and, later on, professional success.

“Pag matalino ka, di ka inaaway, so nag-aral ako (If you’re smart, they don’t pick on you, so I studied),” shared Celis. “I did well in school. That was my wall. If success can block the pain, I might as well make use of it.”

But success was only a wall for him for so long. A business partner’s betrayal and an abusive relationship turned his world upside down. However, this pushed him to reflect on the life that he truly wanted and how he wanted to show up in the world.

When he realized he had nothing else to lose, he realized it was time to live life more authentically. He pursued coaching, and in doing so, he found new opportunities (including TEDx talks, getting published in articles, and winning awards!) and started to live a life and career that not only honored his gifts but also allowed him to be his more authentic self.

Get better at communicating with others.

The leadership forum also set up sessions that taught participants how to relate and communicate better with others.

The leadership forum also set up sessions that taught participants how to relate and communicate better with others.

In Wowie Wong’s session, he taught the attendees how they can connect with others in a way that’s more authentic to them. He shared with the audience four behavior types they need to keep in mind to help them improve their communication style as they pitch their ideas and projects: Drivers, Analyzers, Expressives, and Amiables.

Drivers are task-oriented and need control, and they can get frustrated when they don’t ‘win’ or meet their goals, leading them to ‘explode’ or turn to blaming. People work best with them when they give drivers clarity—clarity in direction and clarity in communication. The key to winning them over is to focus on facts and save the backgrounders or nuances after, secure their buy-in by connecting your projects or pitches to their own goals, and to deal with the facts that they give and not take their feedback personally.

Analyzers tend to think about what they say and are driven by a need to be right. Rapid change can be a challenge for them, and they may respond to it by whining or being sarcastic. To ensure your message gets across, you need to be both direct and diplomatic, keep your promises, and consider longer-term scenarios. They prefer concrete examples, so make sure to incorporate that in your pitches or presentations. Also, make sure to give them a heads-up so they can chime in with their ideas or feedback during meetings.

Expressives enjoy speaking and being in the company of other people. However, they may balk at rejection, so to better connect with them, you will need to invest time in socializing and communicating ideas that stir their emotions, while giving them the space to share their own ideas.

Lastly, Amiables are also people-oriented and are driven by security. They feel tension when faced with confrontation and can sit on their hands and wait too long to act as a result. To work well with them, you need to be ready with words of appreciation, ask for their feedback, acknowledge their contribution, and be open and candid with them.

In addition to the four behavioral types that could help them with communication, Wowie also taught the participants about the elevator pitch, a 30-45 second speech that aims to pique interest in a product, idea, or project. For LGBT+ leaders who need to pitch their projects to management, this is a critical tool that they can maximize in the workplace.

Wowie also shared the six key steps to creating an elevator pitch: identifying a goal, stating the problem, stating what you do, sharing your unique selling proposition, engaging the audience with an open-ended question, and putting the entire pitch together. He wrapped his session up by giving the participants an opportunity to practice creating their elevator pitch and pitching to another person.

“We have to know ourselves and others [when we communicate],” he said. “Always remember why you’re communicating, [remember] to be authentic, and take note of the elevator pitch.”

Learn about skills and techniques that would help you connect better with others.

During the afternoon sessions, the leadership forum shifted its focus from the personal to a more relational and community-specific context. ELF Coaching Trainer and Executive Coach Victor Nuñez talked about relationship systems intelligence, which he defined as the ability to see oneself and others as an expression of the system.

“Relationship systems intelligence requires a great deal of self-knowledge. Relationship systems-inspired leaders have emotional and social intelligence,” he shared.

He noted that in a relationship system (defined as a group of interdependent people with a common purpose or identity), leaders learn to spot things like interconnected patterns of relationships, interdependence, sense of belonging or identity in the relationship, and trust and safety in relationships.

So how can one become a more relationship systems-inspired leader? Victor shared that leaders need to assess their team’s strengths and challenges and stay aware of what’s going on with their teammates.

He also added that it’s important for leaders to build team agreements, norms, or contracts. “How are we going to be together? How are we going to support each other? Even in your family, this can be done,” he shared. “Practice it in meetings. Ask: how do we want to be together? Do this five minutes before a meeting.”

In addition, he added that running regular reflection sessions, retrospectives, and check-ins will also help leaders stay connected with their team and uncover opportunities.

“Your team is different every single day,” he advised. “If you don’t meet them where they are that day, you might miss a leadership opportunity.”

Towards the end of the forum, the attendees learned about open space technology from coach and facilitator Ina Bacud. Open Space Technology is a method of running meetings that empowers participants by allowing them to actively create the agenda. The participants were asked to reflect on what strengths or superpowers they had and how they could build on them, and they also reflected on topics that impacted them at home and in the workplace, such as: finding a sponsor or mentor, inclusive recruiting and interviewing, developing skills to be better advocates, reducing advocacy fatigue, workplace equity, managing conflict, psychological safety, and mental health, among other topics.

The open space discussions revealed that the participants saw authenticity, vulnerability, courage, resilience, empathy, non-judgmental behavior, and healthy boundaries as some of their key strengths, along with credibility and excellence, and believe that to continue growing and thriving, they need to be able to develop skills such as storytelling, public speaking, listening, and conflict resolution, along with flexibility and adaptability.

Don’t forget to be an advocate.

While the Philippines has seen increased visibility of LGBT+ people at home and in the workplace, there are still significant barriers to acceptance, inclusion, and equity that keep the LGBT+ from living authentic lives and thriving in the roles they choose to play in society. In his talk, R1 RCM Head of People Operations and Associate Director Angelo Ronquillo shared some alarming statistics: 28% of LGBT+ youth reported experiencing homeless, 73% reported symptoms of anxiety, 45% seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 14% attempted suicide in the past year.

On an individual level, Ronquillo suggested that LGBT+ professionals in the workplace can improve the experience for their peers by doing good work; taking up space; starting a diversity and inclusion council in the workplace; and routinely evaluate existing materials, policies, and diversity and inclusion strategies to ensure that they remain empathetic and responsive.

Ronquillo urged the attendees to contribute in three ways: advocating for acceptance, showcasing role models and encouraging employee protection, and enforcing policies against discrimination. He also called for HR professionals to practice fairness in judgments and reject double standards to create a more welcoming work environment for LGBT+ professionals.

“Your gender identity does not determine who you are and what you can achieve,” he encouraged the participants. “Never let anyone make you feel less of a person.”