Her role in a male-dominated field has long been a matter of fact for Martha Borja, the Country Head of Grab Financial Group.
But this very existence — leading all of Grab Philippines' efforts when it comes financial technology for Southeast Asia's leading superapp — is proof that soon enough, women will not only fill boardrooms in the company as it long did with men.
From its leaders, to its managers, down to the riders and small business owners they partner with, Borja says women are offered equal opportunities in Grab, believing it necessary if their goal of genuine financial inclusion were to be truly achieved, especially after a pandemic that saw massive need for services like theirs.
"Since its inception, the technology industry has faced an inherent gender diversity issue," Borja, a 44-year-old banker with over two decades of experience, told reportr. In honor of International Women's Month, we recently got in touch with Grab to learn about its efforts when it comes to conquering gender biases through the company's vast suite of services.
"...The senior leadership team has made a conscious effort to make gender diversity a top hiring priority in senior positions," she said. Recognizing that it was "no different from" other tech companies struggling with gender inequality, Grab in 2021 said it was now consciously addressing the matter by ensuring that all Grabbers are treated equal regardless of race, age, gender, or sexual orientation.
Women now account more than 50% of its workforce, with almost 50% of leadership roles in the Philippines filled by women. Aside from Borja, there is also other women leaders like Grace Vera Cruz, who was named country manager of Grab in 2020, replacing Brian Cu.
For Borja, Grab's pursuit of transforming the Philippines into a cashless society will only be possible if women’s economic empowerment are made a priority, especially for those at the margins.
To read in full how she and other women leaders at Grab are working to make this happen, read our exchange below.
Grab’s most visible partners are delivery riders and car drivers, who are usually men. How does Grab provide opportunities for other genders, especially women?
When it comes to providing equal opportunities, we certainly do not shy away from giving women the avenues to let them build a livelihood, feel empowered, and find success with Grab.
For one, we also partner with women who serve as both drivers and riders. Much like our community of male partners, these women also serve as GrabFood, GrabExpress, GrabMart, and GrabCar drivers and partners who untiringly serve our consumers and provide them with utmost convenience and safety, whether it be through food or grocery deliveries, car trips, or otherwise. We always want to keep an equal playing field, and this is one of the ways we are able to provide equal opportunities for women and help support themselves and their families, too.
Because of this equal playing field, we have seen that more and more female drivers have expressed openness and willingness to join Grab as part of our community of delivery- and driver-partners. We can say that another catalyst for this has been the pandemic, which saw a lot of Filipinos striving to find an alternative or completely new sources of income altogether. With Grab showing that everyone has an opportunity to grow with them, especially women, we can definitely see how our roster of female driver- and delivery-partners have taken up the challenge to break the bias.
On the other hand, our merchant-partners – whether on GrabFood, GrabPay, or otherwise – are teeming with strong and powerful women who run their own businesses. Inspired by the potential of digitalization and what it can bring to them and consumers, they have been able to find a partner with us as they are constantly assisted through the vast suite of services that merchant-partners can avail of, from the Grab Merchant Portal (which provides them with data and analytics that help review their brand’s performance), Grab Merchant Solutions (where these merchant-partners can partner with Grab to avail exclusive promos to excite more consumers), and GrabAds (for self-serve ads).
At the same time, we see a lot of women-led businesses who are partnering with GrabPay, while also championing their fellow women. A good example for this would be Edamama – an online platform that aims to make parenthood and baby products available to soon-to-be, new, and existing parents. A women-led business founded by Bela Gupta D’Souza, Edamama has been a long-time partner of GrabPay in order to make both parent and baby needs and products not only easily accessible, but also safer to purchase thanks to their business being completely online.
On the side of food deliveries, we have even seen a group of sisters find an opportunity with Grab! Thai Mango, founded by four sisters, wanted to go beyond the usual burgers, chicken, and pizza that a lot of brands already offer - hence their coming up with Thai Mango. Since partnering with Grab, they have since become one of the highest-performing merchants on the platform, enjoying consistent sales from their audience which they get to maximize with their business being mainly digital. With Thai Mango being just one of our many merchant-partners headed by women, we hope we empower more to see the potential of going digital, and for them to know that everyone has a place with Grab.
In short, Grab is always committed to providing an equal and fair arena, especially for women, to help ensure that they face no barriers in building livelihoods.
In the mission to build a cashless society, there are those who will get left behind, especially with a country as impoverished as ours. What is Grab’s take on this?
When it comes to paving the road for a cashless and digital society, we have recognized from the get-go that there is much to do when it comes to financial inclusion – simply put, the concept does not sound easy and cannot be done overnight. There are a number of factors to consider, from addressing people’s hesitations from shifting from cash to cashless, to ensuring that all sectors of Filipinos are covered in this mission to financial inclusion for a cashless society.
That said, Grab has taken initial steps to further its commitment to serve especially the underbanked and unbanked. We have laid the groundwork for this in a number of ways:
At the peak of the pandemic, Grab provided support for merchants lacking e-payment and digital infrastructure by enabling them with GrabPay QRs, which allowed for interoperability of QR payments in their everyday operations. On the other hand, GrabPay also works with offline merchants by helping them set up online stores with cashless options. Our partnerships that we have since formed consist of brands that come from a diverse array of categories and interests, and include:
- Beauty/fashion: H&M, Uniqlo, adidas, Forever 21, Zalora
- Food: Starbucks, Conti’s, Mama Lou’s, Cafe Mary Grace
- Groceries/Convenience stores: FamilyMart, S&R, Rustan’s
- Everyday needs: Watsons, SM Markets Phoenix Petroleum, Ace Hardware
- Technology/Appliances: Western Appliances, Power Mac Center, Silicon Valley, JBL
- Sports: Decathlon, Sports Central, NBA Store
- Miscellaneous interests: National Bookstore, FlowerStore.ph
During the height of the pandemic, we helped local farming communities adapt to cashless by giving them a secure and reliable e-wallet for their everyday transactions and we see encouraging outcomes from this partnership and we are optimistic that by working with like-minded partners and communities we can further drive financial inclusion in many communities.
Though our Small Business Booster Program and our ongoing partnership with our wide network of merchant partners - we equip more storefronts to accept GrabPay for cashless transactions
Grab accelerated GrabPay adoption by merchants via partnerships with TPAs such as DragonPay and PayMongo in the Philippines, to name a few.
For driver- and rider-partners:
GFG is also actively working towards building more partnerships to make digital payments accessible to all and to help create alternative income sources for them. A prime example would be Grab’s current partnerships with Samsung Philippines and Pilipinas Shell, in which driver-partners are provided with tools that they need to sustain their livelihoods, including allowing them to purchase smartphones on zero percent installment and avail of fuel purchases on a deferred payment plan.
GFG has also since mounted a cash loan program for our driver-partners, which they can avail for their immediate financial needs such as repairs for their car or motorbike; as well as tuition fee payments for their family.
For everyday consumers:
Launched in 2020, GrabPay Card, in partnership with Mastercard, is a digital-first prepaid card that aims to let Filipinos enjoy seamless digital payments. Thanks to Mastercard’s global acceptance, users can use GrabPay Card for millions of online merchants worldwide, and can even be linked to the iOS App Store and/or Google Play.
Of course, there are still many opportunities for us to widen our scope and continue improving and expanding our services to aid more underbanked and unbanked Filipinos as they start to use cashless. Here at Grab Financial Group, we will remain committed to serve them and include them as we help build the way for a cashless Philippines.
As a woman leader at Grab, what are some of the challenges you deal with and how do you overcome them?
Since its inception, the technology industry has faced an inherent gender diversity issue. Long considered a male-dominated world, with this said, it is part of our responsibility to ensure that we have a diverse and safe workspace at Grab. Grab has made great strides in promoting diversity and inclusion within the organization. Particularly at Grab Financial Group, the senior leadership team has made a conscious effort to make gender diversity a top hiring priority in senior positions. Grab adopted changes in its recruiting strategies (including how job descriptions are written) that can help us bring in more women into the organization and at the same time attract more female candidates in the future.
What’s one unforgettable experience with a female leader, merchant or a partner that taught you something important about your work?
I distinctly recall meeting a very successful entrepreneur who founded one of the largest store chains in the Philippines. She was fondly called Nanay and she was very passionate about learning and teaching. She rose from very humble beginnings and would always share stories about working hard and dreaming big. She has built her legacy by nurturing the people around her just like how your lola would dote on her grandchildren. I learned the beauty of leading from your heart and how embracing your femininity, showing empathy and compassion makes a difference in times of challenges and ambiguity.