Insights on Workplace Gender Equity & Agile Leadership from URC’s Lisa Abalajon

URC’s Chief HR Officer & Agile Transformation Lead on unleashing employees’ full potential

“The most fundamental contribution of any leader in building equity in the workplace is to first recognize that women deserve a work environment that is fair, respectful, and value-driven.” This was one of the key takeaways from the interview with Atty. Elisa “Lisa” Abalajon, Chief Human Resources Officer and Agile Transformation Lead of Universal Robina Corporation, which recently appeared in ETHRWorld International, the digital platform of The Economic Times’ Human Resources section. 

Lisa, who has over 25 years of HR experience across a wide range of industries, shared in the article her insights on building a gender-neutral and progressive work environment, as well as how to effectively implement and sustain Agile framework practices in an organization.  

Recognizing the need for gender equity in the workplace, Lisa emphasized the importance of creating conditions that support women's career growth and removing obstacles in their path. “For women to thrive in their chosen field, we need to create conditions in their work environment that reinforce belief in their own capabilities, while removing constraints that restrict them from reaching their full potential, said Lisa. Part of the solution would involve ensuring fair and merit-based career advancement and rewards, providing training for personal development, making recruitment decisions based on qualifications and fit, and implementing HR programs that address work-life balance issues. These principles should apply to all employees, regardless of gender, race, or religious beliefs.

Responding to a question which implied that the issue of advancing women into leadership positions was still not treated by many companies as a business priority, Lisa reinforced her view that women must be given the same opportunity as men. “There are enough studies to show that financially successful companies have diverse leadership teams who are in a better position to understand and meet different consumer expectations,” said Lisa. She added that companies with women leaders in key positions, could even act as “a magnet for external talents.”

As one of the chief architects behind URC’s Agile@Scale transformation program which helped the company’s impressive rebound from the headwinds of recent years, Lisa delved into the characteristics of a progressive workplace culture and leadership that encourage agility. “An organization that is truly Agile has its customers' best interest at the heart of any decision they make. This clarity of purpose serves as its beacon to commit, to take risks, and to collaborate with the right people to make ‘magic happen’, said Lisa.

To scale the Agile Methodology (a project management approach that involves breaking the project into phases and emphasizes continuous collaboration and improvement) within an organization, Lisa believes that leadership commitment is crucial but people empowerment and accountability are also essential. “With the right capabilities and resources, aided by the leaders’ clear strategic direction, the Agile units are built to make better decisions on what to pursue and when to pivot if what they are working on no longer makes sense,” said Lisa.

The importance of leading from the top is also key toward retaining corporate talent. “Leadership development is up on my list for talent retention. Companies should help their leaders build self-awareness of how they are perceived by their employees,” said Lisa, noting how the company leaders' actions and behaviors have a deep impact on employee engagement and satisfaction.

To address this issue, URC’s HR has developed programs to aid company leaders build their own self-awareness, hone their coaching and mentoring skills, and become more empathetic to employee concerns. “The more we inspire leaders to be their best selves, the more they become inspiring to others. Inspired leadership creates high employee engagement, and its rippling effects can be felt in the entire organization.”

As our ways of working evolved during the COVID pandemic, Lisa stresses that workplace flexibility, such as hybrid work arrangements or flexible hours, are more important than ever in attracting and retaining talent, as it helps employees manage their work and personal responsibilities.

Questioned about the challenges HR practitioners face in today’s world, Lisa notes how the function is expanding and must also focus on how to create value for the business. Traditional HR functions such as recruitment now require assessing candidates' fit with the company's purpose and culture, beyond their qualifications for the role. “Given the business dynamics and the complexities of the geo-political and social environment, the task of advising, designing, and implementing the right structure, rewards system, talent management processes, and competency frameworks have become more challenging to HR,” shared Lisa.

By pivoting its approach from simply performing traditional HR tasks to adding value to the business, Lisa believes HR becomes enabled to adapt to changing consumer habits, evolving customer expectations, and technological advancements, all while driving organizational success through effective people management. “HR has to be at the forefront of change. To be a catalyst for change, HR needs a shift of mindset from ‘performing traditional HR tasks’ to ‘creating value for the business.’ This means that HR would need to immerse itself in the business and think of itself as business leaders and not just HR leaders.”

Lisa's keen insights, which helped URC earn the “People Focus” award at the Gokongwei Group’s Pride in Performance Awards in 2022, can provide valuable guidance for leaders and HR professionals aiming to build gender equity, foster agility, and retain top talent in their organizations. By embracing inclusive practices, empowering teams, and adapting to changing business dynamics, companies can create a progressive and thriving work environment for all.

To read the full interview, click here

For more information on Universal Robina Corp. visit