Monette Hamlin: Turning Adversity Into Success

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By Olivia Preston and Rochelle Martin

There have been various long-standing discussions within society, surrounding inequality in the workplace.  A topic of extreme importance, being equal pay for women. 

As Chairwoman of the Women’s Business Council in the Philippines, Monette Hamlin is devoted to the financial empowerment of women and the removal of gender biases, ensuring that women are not constricted by societal norms. She takes us on a journey throughout her life, which has led her to become a well-established CEO, Author and Mother. 

“I believe we have the power and the responsibility to create positive change in society, through our choice of words and images.”

What lessons can be learned from your career journey?

I think one of the most important lessons that can be learned from my career journey, is that women can do anything they want if they put their heart and passion into it.

I grew up surrounded by strong women, as my father died when I was ten years old. It was my mother and my aunts who guided me and provided me with everything I needed. They instilled in me that my opportunities are limitless if I work hard and do my best in everything I do. 

Autograph your work with excellence. I have taken this lesson to heart, and it has become a driving force in everything that I do.

When my dad died, our finances changed drastically, and my mom converted our home into a boarding house. It was a big change in lifestyle, and I could see how difficult life was for my mom, having to take care of all of us. I decided then and there, to work hard and make sure my family would not suffer.

I went through school on scholarships and worked summers to earn enough money to buy books and school supplies.

As I had to maintain my grades, I studied hard and finished college with a summa cum laude, then two years later got a full scholarship at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), where I also graduated with distinction. It was at AIM that I became interested in marketing and decided to take on more classes in it.

My education opened doors for me. After my two-year Master’s in Business Management at AIM, I was hired as a management trainee at an international magazine, World Executive’s Digest.

Starting as a management trainee, I learned the ropes of publishing, and ten years later, I had risen the ladder to the second highest position of the company.

Suddenly, new owners of the magazine decided to let top management go so they could hire their own people. I was out of a job, separated, undergoing annulment, with two young daughters and a mother to take care of. 

Soon after, AIM asked me to continue organising the Asian Management Awards in six different countries. Michael Alan Hamlin, who was the vice president of AIM and my counterpart in the project, advised me to take it on.

I was worried. How could I run this programme without money? Mike believed in me and said all I needed to do was to focus on what I’ve been doing, and that the money would follow.

This opportunity gave birth to The Events and Awards Manager of Asia, which many now know as TeamAsia.  Mike and I got married later and grew TeamAsia into what it is now. 

Why did you decide to write your e-book?

The e-book I wrote together with the Women Business Council Philippines (WomenBizPH) is a compilation of the lessons imparted through our flagship womenar (women seminar) series called “I Am Woman: A Gender Responsive Guide for Business and Corporate Leaders.”

The idea behind this six-part womenar event is to help business leaders understand women empowerment and gender equality in the workplace, aligning with  the United Nations Women Empowerment Principles (WEPs).

When you are a leader, being gender-sensitive can make the difference between reinforcing stereotypes that limit a person’s capabilities and challenging gender stereotypes to help shape a more inclusive, diverse, and equal society.

I believe we have the power and the responsibility to create positive change in society through our choice of words and images. By equally representing men and women in non-traditional roles and professions, we implicitly remove gender bias and empower them to pursue their dreams and achieve their full potential.

What do you hope women learn from your story?

As women learn about my story, I hope they will be able to take away that women are powerful beings. we can do anything we aspire for, as long as we have passion in our heart and we work hard for it. Although there will always be challenges, we can overcome them with grit,  grace and prayer.

I also hope that we realise that we should empower one another in any way we can. We should continue to hold the door open for all women, in terms of opportunities for career advancement, self-fulfilment, and finding their purpose.

At the same time, we need to help other women, especially those who are underrepresented to realise their potential, not letting their gender hinder them from what they are meant to be.  

Women empowerment is among my advocacies, especially economically empowering women. I firmly believe that when women support other women, great things happen.

What was your inspiration for starting up TeamAsia?

I started gaining interest in organising events as a student leader in college.  I jumped at the opportunity of organising a regional management awards programme for my then employer, World Executive’s Digest (WED) and my alma mater, the Asian Institute of Management (AIM).  When WED’s new owners came in, I was let go. 

Thankfully, my expertise in event management did not go unnoticed. AIM asked me to continue organising the Asian Management Awards in six different countries in Asia. At first, I was hesitant to take on the project as I had to raise the funds to run the program.  But AIM believed in my capabilities and my husband, who was the vice president of AIM, also helped in boosting my confidence.  More importantly, I was at a crossroads in my life, and I needed to take care of my family and provide for them.

And thus, TeamAsia was born.

What impact do you believe the pandemic has had on women?

During the pandemic, I realised just how much women have been affected. Earning less, saving less, holding less secure jobs; many heading single-parent households, and with less social protection, women have less capacity to absorb economic shocks than men. Yet, many women served as front-liners in the fight against the pandemic, serving as health workers, security guards, social workers, etc. Women-owned and women-led organisations had to battle for survival, as government-mandated lockdowns were imposed. 

Furthermore, women have taken on the additional burden of unpaid care work at home, including caring for sick family members and aged parents, tutoring children, doing distance learning, doing household chores and more.

Several women have started small online businesses to make ends meet. For many women who continue to work, albeit, from home, the pressure of balancing work and family life has caused severe physical and emotional stress. The pandemic has also led to a steep increase in domestic violence against women and girls trapped at home with their abusers.

How did it feel to be named as one of 2021’s Most Influential Filipino Women on LinkedIn?

I am extremely honoured to be hailed as one of 2021’s Most Influential Filipino Women on LinkedIn. My efforts with private and public organisations are all influenced by my passion to economically empower women, elevate the standard of education in the Philippines to be globally competitive and boost the MICE industry of the country.

I am always eager to reach various stakeholders and convince them of the importance of these advocacies of mine. I’m just thankful for their open minds that I can touch their hearts and leave an impact enough for them to join me in my cause.

But what makes this deeply meaningful is that my daughter, Bea Lim, was also recognised by LinkedIn at the same time for her accomplishments.  As a mother, I am tickled pink and bursting with pride that I share this honour with Bea.

What would your advice be to a woman wanting to start her own business and become an entrepreneur?

Go ahead and do it! There is no limit to what you can do. 

Take on something you are passionate about because then you will never give up. Invest in learning the ropes. Talk to successful entrepreneurs. Build a support network. Check out government incentives.

If you need access to funds, there are loan programs available to help you kick start your business.  Roll up your sleeves and be prepared to work hard, and give it your best.

I, myself, started from scratch when I started TeamAsia together with my late husband. While it is important to have a confidant as you build your own business, don’t be afraid to stand alone and do it by yourself.

When my beloved husband and business partner succumbed to cancer nine years ago, I was devastated. It felt like my world caved in.

My daughter, Bea, who was then finishing up her masters in Boston, decided to come back and help me with the business, bringing with her youthful fervour and the latest knowledge and best practices.  Bea assumed the role of Managing Director, and TeamAsia grew even bigger and stronger under her leadership. 

Truly, when God closes a door, He opens a window.  So, while it was a Mike and Monette tandem before, now it is a Monette and Bea tandem. From husband-and-wife partnership to a mother-daughter partnership.

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