Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Exodus of Talent 2: Culture

The second reason is really a Filipino trait which is the root of everything I think. It is the unacknowledged white elephant in the room that casts its large shadow across everything. It’s the reason we can never move forward, the reason why even if we have the talent, we can’t move on. Why there are only a few grassroots Filipino companies that succeed and why we can never have the next Bill Gates or the next Carlos Slim from our ranks. And what is it, you ask? Why, nothing more than politics friends.

Yup, you heard me right. Its P-O-L-I-T-I-C-S with everything capitalized, Filipino style. It is not just in the actual political arena where it exists, even in the most basic of institutions like impromptu gatherings in front of sari-sari stores, it exists.

 In the Filipino workplace, the rule of thumb is this: it’s not what you know but who you know that spells the difference between success and failure. Never mind your industriousness, your integrity or your passion; if you don’t know the man or woman on top, you’re screwed. Idealists may rage against it or deny it, but in the majority of offices and workplaces, this is the unspoken truth. I wish it weren’t so but it is.

Palakasan system. Suck up to those in power. Shower them with accolades and gifts. Flirt with them, seduce them, cross the line with them… if only to have a chance at that next promotion; or to simply be able to hold on to that job.

Ninong system. Kamag-anak system. Kapatid ka ng pinsan ng pinsan ng stepfather ko. Ain’t that sick, brothers and sisters? Never mind that they are the least qualified and the most haughty of employees, as long as they share one shred of questionable familial connection, they’re in. The quality of work erodes and it creates a toxic environment that is merely waiting for that inevitable implosion to occur.

Bosses and hiring people prefer candidates who suck up to them. If you resist or are perceived as a threat to their positions, expect hell. If you can’t help me, why would I help you? Tanga lang ang tutulong sa taong magiging kakompetensiya niya. That’s the Filipino mentality and his Achilles heel. And the greater tragedy of it is that it is cultural. It is ingrained and I brand anyone who doesn’t accept this as a hypocrite or a saint.

Who would you prefer as boss? Another Filipino? Or a foreigner? Who would you rather get promoted: your compatriot? Or the Indian? Would you give way to make one of your countrymen the boss? Or would you fight every inch of the way and resort to smear campaigns just to make sure that he never gets it, thinking that if it was not you, then another Filipino doesn’t deserve it? And if you are the boss, would you promote a countryman to the position next to you? Or would you think of him as a threat and treat him as such?

Yeah, we spout things such as Filipino pride but when it comes to the little things like these, we resort to the ugly side.

Filipinos make the best employees, this is why foreign companies love us. We work hard, we are loyal, we work overtime without pay, and we will never leave a job half finished. But every employer also knows that there is a limit as to how many Filipinos they can employ without them imploding on themselves. Fill up a company full of Filipinos and sooner or later animosity, petty jealousies, crab mentality and other stuff destroy all the good things they give. Make sure that it is an interracial workplace or better yet, make sure they are culturally diverse: like put a Bisaya boss over Tagalog workers or vice versa. That stuff works.

And this culture is prevalent in Philippine companies. It is a stifling, suffocating place and there is a time in your professional life when you just get fed up with it and throw in the towel. If your workplace is stressful and full of venom, why stay. If your best can not be acknowledged and your industriousness is treated as a threat by others, why stay?

I admire the martyrs, that’s another Filipino trait we have; but give them a chance to leave and they would. That’s the cold and painful truth.

We blame the government and the minority aristocracy but they comprise just the tip of the iceberg. If we examine ourselves, we find the ugliness there. We coddle our kin, we sympathize with our kids even when they are wrong. Even the most idealistic of activists would turn tail when those closest to them perpetuate the ills they fight against or worse, be in denial. That’s the tragedy of the Filipino psyche: we are soft when the issues hit close to home. We don’t suffer shame as the Japanese do (and acknowledge it) and we don’t have a sense of accountability as the whites do. We even lack the fierce cultural allegiance of the Chinese (they refuse to let go of their Chinese identity – hence the prevalence of Chinatowns and they help each other); or the racial loyalty of blacks and Indians/Sikhs (they actually help each other pass exams – Filipinos won’t do that…); or the religious fervor of Moslems. We take pleasure in pulling each other down and gossiping about celebrities and other such shallow endeavors.

And the so called enlightened ones: our best and our brightest leave. And until such a time the Filipinos wake up from their stupor and take stock of themselves, the deluge of talent leaving the country can never be stemmed until nothing more remains to be given.

These are the two main reasons people leave. Whether you accept it or not, these are the reasons….

I wish I could say that there is a cure to stop the people from ever leaving. Maybe a change in government (no, it won’t – unless a heavy handed government who has a clear goal in mind has the courage to go against the status quo and the Filipino race would give them the benefit of the doubt to implement the changes that are badly desired and not immediately take to the streets to oppose it).

 I put my marbles instead in the individual Filipino: if all of us can learn to know the meaning of support and trust. When the man in the street learns to trust his brother and not think only about himself and think of the achievement of a compatriot as his own and not an affront to his self-worth, then we have a chance. If merit rather than connections anchors careers and jobs, then there is a chance. If people are willing to work together rather than gossiping about each other or talking flak about each other; when men stop chasing skirts and women stop comparing husbands to other males, then there is a chance. 

If that happens, probably someday instead of leaving, people will start returning. Instead of other countries benefitting from Filipino talent, it would be the motherland who does that. 

‘Suntok sa buwan’ as the saying goes. 

Prove me wrong.

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