HOW AR. LESLEY VILLANUEVA INSPIRES MALASAKIT AS DATEM INC.'S FIRST ONLINE PRESIDENT
It's not uncommon for people to correlate modernization as the need to adapt to technological advancements through corporate hardware and software. After all, digital transformation drives the success and longevity of conglomerates and small to medium enterprises. However, modernization doesn't only apply to apps and equipment; it also entails implementing progressive ways of thinking like gender equality and healthy workplace cultures. There's no denying that dated ideals and work practices can be a considerable barrier for entry, especially for women who continue to face these corporate and social obstacles daily. Ar. Lesley Villanueva, DATEM Inc's first and newest Online President, sees these challenges and recognizes that the right approach for them is a touch of openness to change and innovation.
Fostering a fascination in building and architecture
At an early age, Ar. Villanueva had aspirations of becoming a scientist by learning about the great inventor, Thomas Edison. However, her constant exposure to her father's occupation as a Civil Engineer led her heart toward architecture. She would be immersed in the world of structures and plans laid on blueprints, with her father exclaiming pride and enjoyment of pointing out buildings that he had a hand in creating. These trips from Cubao to Makati made her perceptive of the stark differences between architectural structures, which caused her to ignite her passion to contribute to what makes these places have spark and character.
A graduate of BS Architecture from the University of the Philippines, Diliman, she took on several roles that gave her the industry experience and skill set of handling different projects. Working her way as an Architectural apprentice to a full-fledged Project Architect under Aidea Philippines, Inc, she was involved in overseeing numerous residential and commercial projects. However, her involvement in the industry didn't stop at honing her architectural prowess. She'd later expand her skill set by taking a Masters in Business Administration in the Ateneo Graduate School of Business.
The Mind Museum Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
Equipped with her experience in working for a large architectural firm, and looking towards her future in construction, her MBA helped her develop a more practical understanding of business concepts in running a firm’s ins and outs. She sees the requirement of field experience as a valuable contributor to her studies, noting that "As an architect, we are trained to create from a macro vision to a micro vision: creating details from a general concept. As a project manager, we need to think the other way around. Knowing the process from both sides and from both directions really helped me in managing the project team's efficiency, and at the same time, protect the client's best interest when it comes to time, cost and quality."
Although some would think this shift in technical to managerial responsibilities would take a great leap in career paths, Ar. Villanueva believes that both professions have similar essential skills. "I can't say that I was "skilled" at managing my time when I was an architect, but it surely pushed me to improve on this once other trades, consultants, and contractors were involved." She adds, "It was a natural transition. As a Project Architect, we were tasked to convey our ideas to drawings, and as Project Managers, we were tasked to bring these drawings to life."
"The scope of work of both are very similar: we coordinate with consultants, share information with the project team, adjust our work based on feedback from clients and other team members while making sure that our deliverables are done in the agreed time frame," says Ar. Villanueva. While pursuing her Master’s degree, she concurrently began work on her new role as a Technical Support Group Head for One Rockwell under DATEM Inc, the company where she would take on one of the most memorable projects of her career. Learning the value of collaboration and innovation.
As a leading construction company in the Philippines, DATEM Inc. is accredited as a
Quadruple A contractor by the Philippine Contractors Accreditation Board (PCAB), the implementing agency of the Construction Industry Association of the Philippines (CIAP). With their 37 years of industry experience, DATEM Inc. offers value-driven engineering services through the convergence of technical expertise and innovation. Among their notable projects was The Mind Museum, where Ar. Villanueva took the helm as a Project Manager.
"The Mind Museum will always have a special place in my heart. It was my first project as 'Project Manager'. Unlike other project managers at that time who were in-charge of high-rise buildings, I think I lucked out in handling this smaller but unique structure that gave me an opportunity to work with a high profile and prestigious proponent." Working with a smaller project in terms of square meter coverage meant an equally compact team composed of young Architects and Engineers. With a majority of them being newcomers in the industry, she found it an enriching experience of growing and learning together.
Collaborating with the Bonifacio Art Foundation, Inc. (BAFI) team was a unique opportunity for her team, allowing both parties to share and learn from each other. "The experience was like being in summer camp – we were learning from them, and they were also learning from us. It was a fun exchange of ideas, ideals, and memories, and it allowed my team to hone our communication skills in dealing with clients, media and other stakeholders." says Ar. Villanueva. "Usually, commercial or residential structures are very modular – not because they lack imagination, but for practicality." she adds, "Working on a center for arts and sciences like the Mind Museum was very different in terms of spaces. The museum's design was very organic – lots of irregular lines, curves, and asymmetrical spaces. Working on the museum was very exciting for us because it allowed us to be carried away by our imaginations."
The task of collaborating with professionals with different backgrounds and specialties made her realize the importance of accepting others and the willingness to learn. "When you are working as a team, educational background, level of knowledge and skill, or tenure do not matter because you help each other out; your team members help fill in the gaps. There is always something that you do not know how to do, or something you are not familiar with – you should not be ashamed of that, but rather, strive to learn, not just from books, but from experience."
"WE NEED TO PROVE TO OTHERS THAT WE ARE TOUGH, THAT WE ARE COMPETENT, AND THAT WE ARE ABLE TO OVERCOME ANY CHALLENGE – NOT 'DESPITE BEING A WOMAN' BUT 'BECAUSE I AM A WOMAN.''
Overcoming the obstacles of being a woman in the construction industry In a sector that some would consider as a male-dominated industry, Ar. Villanueva's pursuit for success wasn't free from the prejudice of being a woman. Before joining the construction industry, she used to be apprehensive of going to construction sites due to the potential and actual cat-calling experiences. She notes that “I still observe and experience instances of gender bias within the industry – females not preferred onsite because masyadong maselan, or laging may rason mag-leave, especially for mothers. It's something that most women have to undergo, and unfortunately, the burden of proof here is on us."
Although these social prejudices are present, she strives to overcome these views by being a part of the change. "We need to prove to others that we are tough, that we are competent, and that we are able to overcome any challenge – not 'despite being a woman' but 'because I am a woman.'' Instead of nursing the fear of being intimidated, she chose to use it to enhance and implement policies that focus on respect and kindness. It's what drives her to reinforce DATEM Inc's value of Malasakit in dealing with their clients and staff alike.
Recognition and acceptance are the first steps in eliminating a dated mindset, and these values can start and flourish in the academe. "When I was studying BS Architecture in U.P. Diliman, there were already more female students than male. We have a healthy overflow of female designers in the Philippines who just lack in exposure. It is good that D+C Magazine is giving us a platform now." She says. "Newer generations should continue this and also have more courage to challenge the norm. The Construction Industry needs more progressive and innovative thinkers that are not afraid to go against the conventional."
"I think that the world's views are changing every day, and regardless of any industry's openness to change, women should not be afraid to step in and do their best at their jobs. There will always be obstacles, and gender biases won't be easy to overcome." She adds," what’s important is for women like me to know what’s right from wrong, and to challenge those who restrict them from excelling.” She would embody this drive by working her way up from being a Technical Support Group Head, keeping her values intact until she eventually became the first online president of the entirety of DATEM Inc.
Inspiring Malasakit as the change you want to see
Becoming the president of DATEM Inc. wasn’t such a straightforward path. Ar. Villanueva had to develop a comprehensive understanding of various projects, jumping from one role to the next as a Project
Manager, Area Manager, Business Development Division Head, and many more. From her last leap as president of subsidiary DATEM Homes and then back to the mother company DATEM Inc., she saw
the adjustment of handling one project, to one department, and then to an entire company as only a difference in the title. “For me, both have mutual stakes in the businesses of the other. When the founders started DATEM Incorporated more than 35 years ago, their objective was to make a difference in the construction industry. They wanted to innovate and to Excel, whilst keeping our values of Integrity and Malasakit intact. And then, 30 years later, DATEM Homes was formed because we had the resources, the experience, and the skill in building structures, so why not use this skill to create homes for the Filipino people? These objectives and these values greatly complement each other, so my work doesn’t jump from one organization to the next – it naturally progresses.”
Ar. Villanueva continues the pursuit for innovation by sharing that their company has implemented a systemic system audit of network applications and processes, starting last year. They’ve collaborated with third-party information systems auditors who have been helping them identify gaps and risks, with each department being allowed to discuss their ever-evolving technological needs, and even their "nice-to-haves" in terms of digital transformation. “There is no better time than now to transform our manual processes into digital ones, and this starts by transforming, not just the hardware or the software that we use, but our employees' mindsets as well.” She adds, “There is a need for employees to adapt to the new technology - new platforms, new programs, new apps, and even new processes. But there is still a need for collaboration, teamwork, and most of all, empathy and concern. I hope that by implementing formal checks such as process reviews, and even informal ones like kamustahans, employees’ mindsets will be transformed and will readily adapt to a digital way of collaboration. We need to see technology as a means to increase productivity, connectivity, and to foster and encourage more meaningful connections.
"DO YOUR BEST AT WHAT YOU ARE DOING NOW, AND IT WILL ALL LEAD UP TO YOUR SUCCESS IN THE FUTURE.”
It’s no surprise that the year 2020 tested their company values the most from the numerous difficulties brought about by the previous year. “If there’s one thing that we as a company have proven to display throughout the year, that’s Malasakit. When Taal erupted, we were immediately onsite, right by lakeside communities, personally handing relief packs and necessities directly to the affected individuals.”
As the months continued to worsen, DATEM Inc, made sure to be present in working with LGUs and private entities to help where they work best. They supplemented the need for constructing Emergency Quarantine Facilities, donated swabbing booths and other construction materials, and provided volunteer workers for the creation of makeshift medical facilities. This form of Malasakit extended not just to the nation but also to their own staff. They mobilized to raise funds and distribute cash aid to monthly and weekly employees who have been affected by the pandemic and other natural calamities.
Understanding the winning mindset to Ar. Villanueva’s success Looking back on the trajectory of her career, Ar. Villanueva never envisioned from the last 10 years that she’d be where she is now. That’s not to say she didn’t make vital steps that led her to success. “It is important always to have a thirst for knowledge and to pursue learning more about the subject matters that pique your interest. There is, of course, such a thing as “information overload,” but I feel that if you are passionate about something, and you believe that it is useful to you, you will never tire of learning new skills, or getting new information.” She adds, ”Do your best at what you are doing now, and it will all lead up to your success in the future.”
With the threat of the pandemic, opportunities to work in onsite locations are generally more difficult. However, there are other means to learn from industry professionals, even during lockdown. Webinars are increasingly popular to students and professionals alike, making them a great avenue for learning in the time of a global pandemic. Ar. Villeneuva recommends that “Students and professionals should never be afraid to attend and ask questions during these seminars. I am naturally an introvert, and I do not like drawing attention to myself. But I also recognize the unique opportunity that these seminars present: you have a valuable resource person available to answer your questions – maximize them!”
Making a lasting change in and out of the workplace
Making a change to an entire industry, or even just one’s workplace, doesn’t happen overnight. This applies not just to the technological advancements necessary in a company but also to the innovation
of more accepting workplaces that exhibit gender equality. These are challenges that continue to be a threat to growth and innovation. However, Ar. Villanueva isn’t taking a passive stance on these societal and workplace hurdles. “I can’t say that I have overcome these gender pre-judgements since they are still present in any situation. However, I do not let these biases intimidate me.” She adds, “ I always try to stand tall and proud even when others belittle me; I try to exude confidence even when I am nervous deep inside; and I always try to be kind and respectful to others, regardless of gender or age.”
Venice Grand Canal Mall Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
Being in a unique position of being the first “online President” of DATEM Inc., Ar. Villanueva sees it as a challenge to lead a company from a distance, but one she believes she is well-equipped to take. “The first order of business is to strengthen our digital network and platforms, for us to be more efficient in our work, and for us to open up more avenues for communication and collaboration.” She adds, “another top priority is to ensure the mental and physical well-being of our employees. To be in quarantine doesn’t have to mean “isolation” – we still have the capacity to reach out and show compassion and Malasakit to others.”
This is why DATEM Inc. initiated the DATEMalasakit CSR program, which began last year as a viable fund-raising strategy to provide all employees a continuing opportunity to contribute and give back to others. ”We came up with this program because we wanted to be ready to mobilize aid and relief efforts anytime. We also wanted all employees to be involved, to be aware, and to be part of growing our culture of solidarity and Malasakit.” Ar. Villanueva is a model of striving for success and embodying the changes she wants to see. Her vision transcends the confines of the workplace, growing beyond her responsibilities as a company president to an invaluable contributor to the country’s needs. “We aim to be not just a trusted builder…we want to be at the forefront of rebuilding. Whether it be homes, lives, or the entire nation.”
Owen Reyes, DATEM Inc.