Lessons From an Introvert Boss: Why Women Should Strive for Equity, not Equality in the Workplace

Being a boss was not in the cards for Marites Dagdag—the General Manager of Clorox Company. But she embraced the role and made waves for the brand. Here’s how.

Unlike most heads of companies, Marites Dagdag did not aspire to be a boss. A product of the country’s public school system from pre-school to college, she candidly admits that all she ever wanted was to contribute to her family’s income. She even fondly recalls helping her mother prepare sandwiches so the latter could sell them at work in the public school where she taught.

“I’ve always been an introvert. I’m not one to start conversations or volunteer to lead a group,” Marites reveals. “My adoptive mom (Marites only found out she was adopted right before the woman who raised her died.) had great belief in my capabilities. She wanted me to take up Journalism because I wrote well. I eventually took up BS [in] Economics and graduated from UP.”

Surprisingly, Marites’ first job had nothing to do with her course. “During my time, graduates would carry their resumes from office to office. I was just too happy to get hired! My first employer was a bank and there, I had to learn IT on the fly. Then, I moved to multinational companies in [the] consumer and B2B industries.”

“Although my earlier jobs were all IT-related, I did not see myself advancing or wanting to stay in that field. In a gutsy move, I asked to be transferred to sales. That role exposed me to finance after which I learned operations, and worked up to levels of increasing responsibility,” she continues.

Presently, Marites is the General Manager of The Clorox Company Southeast Asia (Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore)—a position she has held for the last 15 years. The company’s portfolio is made up of diverse brands sold in more than 100 countries. These include among others: cleaning materials (Clorox), personal care products (Burt’s Bees), vitamins and supplements (multi brands), trash bags and plastic food storage (Glad), and car care products (Prestone).

This is her story.

The Reluctant CEO—The Clorox Company’s General Manager Marites Dagdag believes in putting consumers first, being accountable for decisions and results, and most importantly, inspiring trust among the employees.

It’s a (Wo)man’s World

As a woman leader, Marites prefers to be inclusive and collaborative. “I’m deliberate in developing a work environment where the team is energized to bring their best to work every single day, believe their contributions are valued, and where their opinions are heard in a safe space,” she explains.

“It’s important that I mentor them as I build trustworthy relationships among the employees and my managers in and out of the office.”

Has she experienced any discrimination in the workplace due to her gender? And how does she maintain a work-life balance? “I suppose I’m lucky that in both my personal and professional career, [as] I’ve enjoyed the support of the men around me. My husband Ron has encouraged me to pursue a career and shared equitable responsibilities in raising our three children and keeping a home. At work, I have always had men as bosses and mentors. I owe them [for] where I am today in my career,” Marites enthuses.

“Even in the early days, I was never pressured to be “one of the boys.” Sales require a lot of after-hours drinking and fraternizing,” she continues. “As a mom, I did not have time for that, so I kept to what I’m good at—consistently producing results. The men respected me more for staying true to myself.”

And when asked about the advantages of being a lady boss, she says: “Women, in general, encourage more diverse problem-solving and collaboration with the team. I find this ultimately leads to improved financial performance. Resolutions may take longer, but I believe good decisions always trump hasty ones.”

Pivots in a Pandemic Panorama

Having a wide range of brands enabled the company to survive during the height of the lockdowns. On the upside, there was a very high demand for their cleaning and disinfecting products. Conversely, since people were constrained to stay at home, this negatively impacted their auto business.

Meanwhile, being housebound also meant more home cooking which bode well for Glad, but the same likewise resulted in very little retail traffic to the Burts’ Bees business, as consumers were not buying lip colors.

Health & Wellness—Burt’s Bees encompasses a range of clean and consciously crafted lip balms, skincare, makeup, and more.

The pandemic ushered in a new way to do business. “We turned to accelerating e-commerce to fulfill consumer demands for our products,” she explains. “As disinfecting was considered essential, we were allowed to continue serving our retailers.”

But even they faced setbacks, particularly with their supplies. “Supply shortage, however, pushed the company to look for alternative sources, which later on led to the creation of regional supply hubs, so we could get our goods faster.”

As people eased into the pandemic and Zoom meetings became the norm, the Burt’s Bees brand found itself relevant again, as self-care, health, and beauty—even inside the house—became a priority. “Now that we are going on our third year into this pandemic, The Clorox Company aims to focus on purpose, innovation, and becoming a leading voice in the consumer packaged goods industry,” says Marites.

To this end, the company plans on creating superior products that will give consumers a delightful experience, expanding into new categories, and tapping into technology to better serve the market. Additionally, they remain committed to initiatives promoting product safety and ingredient transparency. “We take our environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals to heart in order to effectively demonstrate leadership in responsible product stewardship,” Marites expounds.

In Retrospect

Marites counts her adoptive mother Lilia and grandfather Alejo as her personal heroes. “It was already much later in life did I find out that I was not raised by my biological parents. I did not feel any differently toward my adoptive mom. If at all, that knowledge made me appreciate her and my adoptive grandfather all the more because of the genuine and unconditional love they showered me from day one.”

This could be the reason why Marites takes care of stray dogs. “Dogs love you unconditionally. It’s my advocacy to care [for] and find new homes for as many of them as I can. All creatures deserve a second chance,” she opines.

Her advice to young women? “Find your purpose. What you want may come in stages or changes over time. Accept that and adjust. Have the confidence that you can do greater things. Change the narrative about what society thinks you should be, most especially the one you think you cannot be.”

“All my managers were men who exhibited traits almost completely opposite to what I was,” she continues. “I wasn’t aspiring for greatness, but someone believed in me. So when it was my turn, I decided to be my genuine self who cared for others, who preferred to build teams, and who would think and speak more deliberately.”

And to end, she adds: “I am an introvert but that did not stop me from creating a work environment where extroverts and introverts could productively collaborate. Lastly, build your circle of trust—your family, friends, colleagues, and mentors. They will keep you grounded and support you in your journey.”