Making Waves in the Workplace: Why the Real Estate Industry Needs More Women Leaders

Having female leaders is usually a feat for most companies, but JEG Development Corporation was bound to set new standards from the beginning. Being one of the first few local developers in Cebu, the company is grounded on tradition set by its namesake, Jose E. Garcia, but continues to dare and challenge norms to continue his legacy. Third generation leader, Ayla Gomez, smashes stereotypes and breaks barriers as one of the executive committee members of JDC while advocating for women empowerment and sustainability in the workplace.

“I wouldn’t say it was a dream to be an executive or specifically to be in real estate,” Ayla expressed. “I did, however, have hopes of being able to lead effectively in whatever path I chose to take, and to be able to contribute something of value, and be a team player.”

Breath of Fresh Air

Representing the family business as the brand manager, Ayla stands out as one of the young women who dare to redefine women’s roles in leadership and real estate. Having a background in marketing, design, and business, Ayla applies a different approach in working on JEG Tower @ One Acacia’s branding: she ensures they remain as authentic as possible to their identity and genuinely stand by what the award-winning building represents.

JEG Tower @ One Acacia is JDC’s first vertical development. Despite being arguably the new kids on the block, the 22-storey premium green building has already been recognized as the Philippines’ Best Green Development and was shortlisted as Best Office Development by PropertyGuru Philippines Property Awards.

READ MORE: JEG Tower @ One Acacia wins Best Commercial Green Development

“We are a small company, even smaller when I came in, and we were starting our first vertical project,” Ayla shared. “I remember thinking back then, “This can be challenging.”, but of course, being small has its advantages which we look at as a strength of ours.” 

Fast forward years after, JEG Tower @ One Acacia is nearing its opening and launch. It is dubbed as the best place to work in Cebu City after earning a LEED Silver Pre-certification and an accreditation from PEZA. 

Green Branding Redefined

Being “green” is not all about being environmentally friendly today. For a homegrown company like JDC, this project means a way of giving back to the people of Cebu. While constructing a green building is more expensive compared to building normal ones, JDC carries its company values of integrity, visionary, and fortitude.

“If they are building something, we are doing it the best way possible,” Ayla expressed. “We want to make them feel valuable, staying true to JEG Tower’s main vision of revolutionizing work and life balance.”

READ MORE: Defining Innovation in Real Estate

The importance of green buildings is being emphasized much more today as the world faces a global health crisis in the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, green buildings encompass a holistic approach in real estate, where sustainability is measured in providing a safe and healthy space for building occupants, while minimizing the harmful effects of construction and operations on the environment.

“I felt very strongly about the project and the sustainable direction it was leading in. I was excited to be part of one of the first movers in Cebu real estate to recognize this importance and to help bring this to the forefront in the community here,” she said. 

Inspiring More ‘Girl Bosses 

Gone are the times that it is unconventional for companies to have female leaders. In fact, Ayla shared an interesting trivia: “According to the Grant Thornton 2020 Women in Business Survey, 43% of female executives in the country hold senior leadership roles, and the Philippines ranked first as having the most number of female executives. This is definitely inspiring!”

Progressive companies and more ‘tenacious, compassionate, and collaborative’ women leaders work hand in hand in normalizing how gender does not define nor limit brilliance nor competence in leadership.

“One challenge that women leaders face is having to assert ourselves more because most industries are still very much male dominated, which puts women on an uneven playing field,” she shared. “Most times, a woman’s competence is questioned and criticized more than of a man’s.”

Despite this, Ayla inspires more girl bosses and women leaders to eliminate inequality and stereotypes in the industry. “The gender bias or double standard is prevalent and is something that women are fighting to change. Women continue to break the glass ceiling and make waves in the workplace.”

Representing JEG Development Corporation and fellow women, Ayla calls for an inclusive workplace for all in working towards a ‘gender-balanced’ society. “Be proactive. Let us continue to make our voices heard and make others listen,” she stated. “Whether it is for equal pay or more representation in the company, let us push for action to evaluate, identify, and prevent an unconscious bias.”

MERV 13 Filters: Are they worth the investment?

With workers and workplaces facing increased hazards associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released their recommendation and guidance for businesses that will reopen amid the pandemic. To prevent the spread of the virus within enclosed public spaces, landlords are advised to prioritize upgrading their building’s air filtration system.

The CDC said that businesses should ‘improve central air filtration to MERV-13 or the highest [standard] compatible with the filter rack, and to seal edges of the filter to limit bypass’ to reduce the risk for office workers. HVAC air filters are necessary to remove contaminants from the air in enclosed spaces with limited ventilation such as workplaces.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has also recommended upgrading air filters in HVAC systems to at least MERV 13 for better filtration, fewer dust particles, and other airborne contaminants.

What is MERV?

The Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) is an effectiveness scale for air filtration systems developed by ASHRAE in 1987. The scale goes from 1 to 16 which indicates the filter’s capacity and efficiency to capture smaller particles.

A MERV-13 rating means a filter is able to catch 90% of particles in the 3-10 micron (μm) range, 90% of particles in the 1-3μm range, and 50% of particles in the range of 0.3-1μm.

JEG Tower @ One Acacia utilizes MERV 13 filters to ensure the utmost safety and protection of its occupiers against the virus and other airborne threats. The MERV13 filter is one of the highest-grade filters in the industry, usually used in hospitals and other high-risk facilities. It promotes a healthy breathing environment, and it will not allow the growth of bacteria, mold, mildew, or fungi.

READ MORE: JEG Tower Focus: MERV and Fresh Air System for Optimal Indoor Air Quality

Why is it important during a pandemic?

Offices can be hotspots for virus and disease outbreaks caused by recycled air and decreased ventilation. Through high quality and top-grade air filters, the indoor air quality of commercial buildings is dramatically improved.

MERV 13 air filters are long-term investments for commercial developments, not only during a pandemic. Aside from protecting its tenants from virus cross-infection and improving their health, better indoor air quality also upgrades the working environment for office buildings.

“Improving indoor air quality has been shown to increase business productivity through being a factor in reducing absenteeism due to health issues,” Michael Glindro, LEED AP BD+C said. “After all, we do spend a majority of our day in the office so taking steps into creating a healthy work environment will benefit the triple bottom line.”

Premium green buildings such as JEG Tower @ One Acacia emphasize the importance of uplifting the quality of life of its tenants through a holistic approach to well-being. The 22-storey LEED Silver Pre-certified building ensures that the highest standards for health and safety are observed and followed during a pandemic or not.

The LEED Advantage: Should commercial buildings in the Philippines go for LEED certification?

As more people become aware of the benefits of a green building in the workplace and the community, many developers are pushing for sustainable and green real estate in the Philippines. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is one of the certifications that buildings in the country can apply to ensure the safety, comfort, and security of its occupants.

Developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), it is an internationally-recognized green building certification program that provides a third-party verification that a building was designed and built following strategies aimed at improving performance, increasing energy savings, water efficiency, and carbon emissions reduction, stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts, and improving indoor environmental quality.

LEED certification is achieved by five main LEED Rating Systems evaluating different aspects of building and construction. Primarily, commercial and office buildings follow LEED Building Design and Construction (BD+C); LEED for Interior Design and Construction (ID+C); LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M).

RELATED: What does LEED mean in Philippine Commercial Real Estate?

These rating systems allow developments to gain points pre-, during, and after the construction phase. Points collected by establishments determine which kind of certification they achieve: Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Certified. As establishments correctly implement a strategy, they earn LEED points. The more points earned, the more sustainable the building is.

LEED certification is also recognized globally. It is the most widely adopted benchmark as its standards apply to buildings operating at a global, regional, and local levels. 

People, Planet, Profit

LEED certification differentiates buildings from the rest. It shows how companies put a premium on their tenants’ safety, comfort, and security while staying inside the establishment. It is also a statement for sustainability as green practices and strategies are upheld from the design, materials used, construction, and operations of the building. Lesser construction waste is also produced.

Moreover, a LEED certification also benefits developers and property owners, highlighting the ‘profit’ aspect of the program. Green buildings result in reduced energy and water usage, effectively lowering operating costs.  LEED-certified buildings have a greater resale value and drastically elevate a company’s branding and public image.

READ MORE: Optimizing Buildings for Disease Prevention

Transitioning to the ‘new normal’, office buildings are applying stricter rules and regulations as some companies begin their business re-entry. These guidelines emphasize the health and security of building occupants against disease-causing bacteria and viruses, especially after numerous studies have attributed faster virus spread in the workplace.

One of the main aspects of LEED-certified buildings is its improved indoor air quality. Research has attributed virus outbreaks in office spaces to poor indoor air quality especially in confined spaces. These studies suggest that the filtration of recirculated air may be effective in reducing the transmission of airborne and infectious diseases. High-grade filters remove dust, vapors, bacteria, and fungi, and also effectively capture viral particles spread by droplet nuclei. 

Additionally, LEED-certified buildings optimize the ventilation inside office spaces. Research also found that an increased ventilation rate effectively reduces the cross-infection of airborne transmitted disease by diluting the contaminated air inside the space more rapidly and decrease the risk of cross-infection.

LEED is the new standard

Given the important role of the work environment in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, LEED certification is the new standard in securing the health, well-being, and safety of building occupiers. LEED’s basic principles of people, planet, and profit offer a cohesive standard for developers and property owners to forward the state of well-being of tenants and employees in the workplace.

Pursuing higher quality spaces encourage responsible building and developments that go beyond mere structure. Through green accreditation systems, the welfare of the community in and out of these spaces are prioritized.