Sunday, July 6, 2014

Rebranding the Filipina Domestic Helpers as Home Manager: On the Hong Kong textbook controversy

Hong Kong textbook describing an image of a Filipina as domestic helper. (Source: Hong Wrong)
A. Brand Perception for Filipinos in Hong Kong

A Hong Kong textbook depicted several races and their associated professions--a depiction which has gone viral in social media:
  • I am British.  I am an English teacher.
  • Iam Filipino.  I am a domestic helper.
  • I am Japanese.  I have a sushi restaurant in Hong Kong.
  • I am Chinese.  Shanghai is my hometown.
  • I am Indian.  I study in an international school.
Many Filipinos were outraged by the depiction of Filipinos as domestic helpers.  But let us look at this from another perspective:
Because of space constraints, you are only allowed to name one profession that best characterizes Filipinos in Hong Kong.  
Engineer?  Sounds like in Middle East for me because I know many Engineers who work in Saudi Arabia.  Nurse?  Sounds like UK to me, because I know several friends who went to UK as nurse.  Domestic Helper?  Most likely.  I know many friends whose parents work as domestic helpers in Singapore and Hong Kong.  So I shall write: Domestic Helper.

B. Statistics on the Filipino Domestic Helper Brand in Hong Kong

These are just perceptions.  To be more accurate, let us look at the statistics on the deployment of Domestic Helpers or Home Service Workers per country as reported by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in 2012:
A check with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration showed that as of July 31, 2012, a total of 1,251,021 OWWA members were employed as HSWs. The OWWA has over 5.52 million members. The top 30 countries hosting documented HSWs were: Hong Kong, 316,412; Kuwait, 210,763; Saudi Arabia, 140,497; United Arab Emirates, 128,101; Singapore, 94,104; Qatar, 78,806; Italy, 78,352; Lebanon, 42,566; Malaysia, 29,019; Bahrain, 21,254; Cyprus, 20,127; Oman, 19,601; Jordan, 18,905; Spain, 13,597; Brunei, 9,740; Macau, 6,085; United Kingdom, 2,716; Syria, 2,637; Taiwan, 2,423; Greece, 1,971; Japan, 1,757; Pakistan, 1,051; South Korea, 774; United States, 768; Cayman Islands, 664; China, 611; Egypt, 593; Palau, 494; Saipan, 454; and Switzerland, 395. (Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer
Notice that Hong Kong comes first with 316,412 workers.  So in a sense, the textbook is correct: Hong Kong is the place to go for Filipino Domestic Helpers. (See Fig. 1)
Fig. 1. Number of Filipino domestic helpers (or home service workers) per country of employment according OWWA (Data Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer)


But are there other Filipinos in Hongkong that are working not as domestic helpers.  I don't have a copy of statistics, but perhaps a proxy data from JobStreet can show us the current job market.  As we can see, the job opening listings for domestic helpers dwarf all the rest (see Fig. 2).  From this, it is safe to conclude that most of the Filipinos who work in Hong Kong are domestic helpers, thus justifying the textbook's association of Filipinos with Domestic Helpers.

Fig. 2. Number of Hong Kong job listings in Job Street as of June 2, 2014.  Notice that most job openings are for domestic helpers


C. Rebranding the Filipino Domestic Helper as Home Manager

You cannot argue against how consumers perceive your brand.  What you can only do as a marketer is to try to change public perception.  The first thing that you have to ask is this: is the perception of my brand correct or not?  If it is correct, reinforce that identity.  If not, try to change the perception of  your brand's identity.

Let's take the brand perception of Filipinos as synonymous to domestic helpers in Hong Kong.  Let us ask some questions:

  • Do the Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong help the Philippine economy?  Yes.  The money they send to their families in the Philippines increases the purchasing power of Filipinos.
  • Do Filipinos have a high regard for domestic helpers?  Here we touch a sore thumb: Filipinos in the Philippines associate domestic helpers with illiterate girls from the poor Philippine provinces, so that associating Filipinos in other countries to domestic helpers does not sound well to racial pride.  But in Hong Kong, the perception of a Filipino domestic helper may be different: (1) they speak better English than Hong Kong residents; (2) they can do multiple jobs--clean the house, cook the food, dress up the kids, take care of the garden, walk the dogs; (3) they are highly literate enough to tutor their kids--many of domestic helpers finished a college degree in the Philippines.  In Italy, my sister told me, having a Filipino domestic helper at home is a status symbol for Italians:  Italians pay Filipino domestic helpers three times the salary of those working in Hong Kong.  And this can be a source of worry for Hong Kong residents, because without domestic helpers, it is difficult for them to establish a stable home.  Nevertheless, one main reason why Filipino domestic helpers remain in Hong Kong is its nearness to the Philippines: they can easily go home in case of emergencies.
So I think the problem is with us Filipinos: we think of domestic helpers as a lowly job.  Perhaps, we need to think of them as Home Managers.

Home Managers.  Being called a manager sounds good.  It is an executive level position in companies.  In the home, it is the role of a wife in a traditional family. But since the modern wife is now also working and out of home most of the time, the task of taking care of the home and the kids rests on the domestic helper.  The domestic helper has been de facto promoted to the position of Home Manager.  If the Home Manager does her job well, she will earn the trust of her employers and ask for a higher salary.  But I think the greatest measure of the success of a home manager is if she becomes an indispensable part of the home, making things run smoothly, and helping each member of the family love each other more.

  What the government therefore needs to do is not to make diplomatic protests against a Hong Kong textbook, but to use this as an opportunity to rebrand the domestic helper as a home manager.  Here are some suggestions:
  • Provide home manager applicants opportunities to learn many skills to manage a home--cooking, bed-making, cleaning, driving, etc.
  • Grade the home manager's skills from poor to excellent and help them improve their weak areas
  • Teach them basic Chinese and reinforce their English skills
  • Provide a seminar on Hong Kong culture: what to do and not to do.  
  • Remind them that they are already Philippine ambassadors of goodwill in another country.  Whatever they do there would reflect on the image of the Filipinos and the Philippines
  • Give them My|Phone Android phones with Filipino apps installed, such as the Rosary, Angelus, Bible readings, etc.
  • Give them the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, so that they will learn to "do ordinary things in an extraordinary way."
Remember: The hand the rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.
Maid to Order in Hong Kong: Stories of Migrant Workers, Second Edition
Maid to Order in Hong Kong: Stories of Migrant Workers, Second Edition
Public Administration in Southeast Asia: Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Macao (Public Administration and Public Policy)
Public Administration in Southeast Asia: Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Macao (Public Administration and Public Policy)
Hong Kong (City Guide)
Hong Kong (City Guide)
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Gender, Migration and Domestic Service (Routledge International Studies of Women and Place)
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Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration, and Domestic Work
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World Migration 2008: Managing Labour Mobility in the Evolving Global Economy (Iom World Migration Report Series)
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The Force of Domesticity: Filipina Migrants and Globalization (Nation of Newcomers: Immigrant History as American History)
Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook: The Essential Guide to Caring for Everything in Your Home
Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook: The Essential Guide to Caring for Everything in Your Home
The Family Manager Takes Charge: Getting on the Fast Track to a Happy, Organized Home
The Family Manager Takes Charge: Getting on the Fast Track to a Happy, Organized Home