After reaching the pass the other day we had a long fun decent. At the bottom was an amazing river which we followed uphill for a long ways. Maybe 20 miles. The end miles were steep…just like the beginning miles were steep. Hard.
After sleeping we didn’t really know what the ride looked like moving forward but we quickly found out it was another steep, long 1500 foot climb. It was rough. But with most rough things we do there’s something amazing on the other side:

While riding, I got this email from Kymn


Is there something in the Filipino culture that has my 0FS have such low self-esteem? No matter how much I praise her, no matter how much I give her paid time off etc, her self-esteem does not seem to improve. She hears feedback as criticism even when I do my utmost to frame it as instructive not criticism.

Might you write about this?  Frankly it gets a bit exhausting constantly feeling a need to build her up. 

To be honest, I have never encountered this before. I knew Filipinos are shy but I think the  Power Distance Index can give the impression that Filipinos have low self-esteem. But based on the email, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

So I showed this email to my OFS, Julia. I asked her thoughts about this and this is what she wrote.

It can be due to a number of things (from most likely to least likely):

1. Personality
When my husband was working as a BPO trainer and I worked in corporate, we encountered people like this.

Best case scenario, they’re uncomfortable with praise because they feel that they’re just doing their jobs. The praise is still appreciated but not needed.

Worst case, it’s an ego thing. This is what I get from  (She hears feedback as criticism even when I do my utmost to frame it as instructive not criticism).

It could be due to:

  • her age (younger workers tend to have bigger egos),
  • background (upper middle class, went to a big school have bigger egos)
  • previous work experience (freelancers who do one-off jobs usually don’t get criticism because they leave as soon as they’re done/ office workers who already had management/power positions ) , etc.

2. Mental health
It could be cognitive distortion, which is associated with anxiety and depression:

This is something that has worsened during the pandemic.

I noticed that those of us who are used to working from home have adapted better. But the new crop of VAs and people working from home really had a hard time:

Mental health isn’t a priority in the Philippines. It’s stigmatized and seen as a weakness. It’s barely covered by Philhealth and not all HMOs cover it. Paying it out of pocket is expensive (I checked).

If this is the case, she might benefit from these resources:

3. Sexism

I’ve actually had conversations about this with expats or foreigners who visit Asia. I also saw this when I visited Thailand and Malaysia. Compared to other Asian countries, the Philippines is less sexist but it’s still pretty strong.

Even though we have women in positions of power, there’s still a lot of pressure to be the ideal wife/mother/daughter. The achievements of women and girls are still considered inferior compared to men. It doesn’t matter if you’re the president of the Philippines, if your family life sucks you’ve failed as a woman.

Sexism is so ingrained that daughters are still jokingly referred to as “pambayad utang” (payment of debt). It’s the (eldest) daughter’s responsibility to take care of the family. They’re expected to sacrifice everything for the family.

Hence the inability to accept praise and criticism. Hard to accept praise when you feel all your work is never enough. Hard to accept criticism when you’ve worked so hard all your life and it’s still not enough.

I think this might be a part of it but just a small part.

The workplace has given Filipino women freedom and power. The literacy rate gap between men and women in the Philippines is now less than 1%. More women are finishing school to enter the workplace. We even have better graduation rates than men.

Personally, when I finished school and started working, I felt empowered. Sure, I had a sexism chip on my shoulder but I also knew I can do just as well (sometimes better) than my male peers. I also had a lot of bosses (men and women) who made sure that we were seen and treated equally. That helped me a lot with my self-esteem.

Even though the gender pay gap in the Philippines still exists, we’re seeing improvements in this because more women are getting better educated and gaining skills at a faster rate.

I think this explains in part why we have more women than men in our database. Working from home gives women the best of both worlds. Online work allows them to practice their skills and education while taking care of their home. The bad thing about online work though is we don’t really get the same respect or recognition as our office working peers.

I don’t always have an answer. Sometimes we just have to work through hard things.