As part of our Leading Women series, we want to highlight the professional challenges and career aspirations of the women we work with here in Asia.

In this feature, Pia Arellano, President and CEO at TransUnion Philippines, shares the key leadership traits that embody the leader of today, the best strategies to empower your employees and strive in a male-dominated industry.

Q: How do you set the tone as a leader?

I think when it comes to setting the tone, clarity of communication is really key. So as a leader, I really do my best to effectively communicate our vision, mission or business objectives so that, as a team, we can come together and collaborate as one unit. But just as important as the “what we must achieve” is also the “how we are to achieve them”. And, you know, this really underscores our values and beliefs as an organisation.

And as a leader, I do my best to model the way so that my people can adopt and mirror, you know, the work ethic and the behaviour that I want them to adopt. I also tried to foster a culture of curiosity and constant innovation; I challenged my people to always, you know, challenge the status quo, I reinforced the fact that there’s no such thing as a stupid question, and really encourage them to speak up and to speak out. So, ultimately, by creating a safe environment, I feel that I’m able to inspire respect and trust and confidence, which allows them to achieve, you know, great things.

Q: How do you empower the people you are leading?

When it comes to empowerment, what I tried to do is really tried to align the strengths of my people and give them opportunities aligned with their strengths. As a leader, I also try my best to remove whatever obstacles standing in the way, right? So, again, this is predicated on clearly communicating their goals and my expectations from them. And ultimately, really differentiating what good is and what great is so that they can all aspire to be great.

So I think that’s sort of like my empowerment style. When it comes to the approach, I try my best to be as accessible as possible. I conduct meetings as often as I can. I really feel that I do want to get to know my people on a more personal level. And, you know, ultimately, I think it’s the least we can do as leaders to show our people how much you value them for the work and the commitment that they give to the business.

Related: 8 must-have qualities of an effective leader

Q: What traits do you admire about other leaders?

There are so many leaders that I admire, but when I think about the qualities that they have in common, I think the qualities that I would underscore number one would be passion, coupled with compassion. So I think it’s very important for leaders to have that clear ambition, and you know, the drive and the passion, to relentlessly pursue it. But I also feel that it’s very important to couple this with compassion and heart.

I also admire a bold and audacious spirit, which allows them to innovate and create. And lastly, I think, you know, as leaders, I also feel that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. And also, have that fun spirit. You know, one of my favourite quotes from Steve Jobs is, “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.

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Q: How do you unplug from work?

I know, it’s really difficult now that we’ve transitioned virtually right, and the boundaries between work and home are really just blurred, but I do my best to really keep my weekend sacred. And so I use my weekends to spend a lot of time with, you know, my family, I play tennis with my son, I check out new restaurants with my foodie daughter. And I also get a thrill from, you know, liberating big bike rides with my husband. I also love the beach. The beach is my happy place. So you know, whenever we have the opportunity, we try to go out of town to the beach. 

Q: Why do you think the subject of empathy is so important?

You know, I’ve always felt that empathy should be a core leadership competency. I feel that others might, you know, view it as just a soft skill. But I’ve always felt that it’s very important for leaders to really have and embody empathy. Ultimately, it underscores compassion and understanding and acknowledges that each individual is different.

So now, more than ever, especially that most of us are working virtually, it’s very important to exercise and still show empathy. It’s important to show our associates and our people that we can understand the challenges they’re going through. It’s important for them to feel heard, right, again, so that we can continuously inspire and motivate them to do productive work – despite the challenges and uncertainty that still lie ahead.

Q: What strategies or advice can you share to help women achieve a prominent position in a male-dominated environment?

I think the first step that I would give to women is to really just own and acknowledge that we have every right to have that seat at the table. Secondly, I think that we should also promote ambition and assertiveness as positive traits. Ultimately, you know, we should really just eradicate all these gender biases. At the end of the day, what should be important are skills, competencies and really exemplary behaviour that personify the values of your organisation.

Related: How to manage performance reviews during the COVID-19 pandemic

Q: What energises you the most?

I know this was supposed to be a non-work related question. But again, to be very honest, I am an educator at heart. So I did leave corporate for a while. And I was a full-time educator at one of our schools here in the Philippines. So really, I see myself not just as a CEO, but really as an educator at heart.

And knowing that as CEO of TransUnion, I have the platform to educate not just the business but also customers. [It] really just inspires and energises me day in and day out, knowing that I can educate them to use the information for good, right. So I feel very passionate and privileged to have this responsibility. It really is a driver for me and a source of energy.

Q: Who was the first woman that you admired?

It has to be my mother. My mother, I mean, thanks to her, I was raised to think that I could achieve anything as long as I set my heart to it, and as long as I put in the hard work. She also epitomised, for me, grace and grit. So grace coupled with grit, which I really feel, are two values and qualities which should be in every woman’s arsenal.

Q: What would be the soundtrack to your life?

I love this question – it really made me think a lot. Because I just realised, as I shifted through my Spotify [list], that I have such a diverse, you know, taste in music. But if I were to trim it down to maybe three songs, which inspire me and energise me: ‘You Are The Universe’ by The Brand New Heavies. Again, I think this is a song that I really love and resonate with because it sort of reinforces my mantra, ‘what you can see, you can achieve’, right, so that’s one. Then secondly, I also love ‘High’ by Lighthouse Family. Again, it always uplifts me and gets me in a happy, positive spirit. And lastly, a little retro doesn’t hurt. So I also love ‘September’ by Earth, Wind and Fire. So this always makes me want to dance.

This is one of the many stories in our Leading Women series. For more inspiring stories of women breaking conventions and taking the lead in the Asia Pacific, visit the official Page Executive blog below: 

Read more:
Leading Women: Standing strong through a personal tragedy
5 interview questions to ask to tell a great candidate from a good one
The value of mentorship and sponsorship, and what it can do for your company

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