Ket Phally, a garment factory worker, is 30 years old and from the Kampong Chhnang province in central Cambodia. Phally’s parents are farmers in an economy dominated by rice production. In sixth grade, Phally had to drop out of school to help support her family, with the majority of her yearly salary dedicated to her parents and her sister’s university education.
Phally’s story is not uncommon. Many women in her country face tough financial and educational odds. However, for Phally, life’s been changing. Seven months ago, she was promoted to a line leader position at her garment factory. Phally has been learning how to enhance her communication skills so that she can continue to advance and position herself as a leader among her coworkers. “The way I would speak before, my coworkers wouldn’t want to listen to me. Now, I speak more assertively, completely, reasonably, politely, and thoroughly. I am able to better communicate with workers on the line. They listen to me now,” she explains.
For Phally, these invaluable leadership lessons have strengthened her self-confidence. Made available to her within the workplace through the Gap Inc.P.A.C.E (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement) program, she credits the lessons with helping her build the skills necessary to improve her work life as well as her family dynamics.
Launched in 2007, P.A.C.E. was developed in partnership with Swasti-Health Resource Center and the International Center for the Research on Women (ICRW), implemented with the support of humanitarian organization CARE. To date, more than 20,000 women have participated in the program in seven countries. With a curriculum that focuses on life skills education and technical training, P.A.C.E. provides female garment workers with opportunities to advance in the workplace and in their personal lives. And, when vendors see the benefits of increased retention rates and efficiency of program participants, they are motivated to support P.A.C.E. by dedicating internal human resources to implement the curriculum on their own, within their factories.
As Phally creates better rapport with her coworkers, she has started to build a more harmonious working environment for those that she manages, encouraging them to support one another and problem solve together. She says, “Now, after P.A.C.E., when I know there is a problem, I handle the situation differently. I ask them about the problem and then show them how to solve it correctly. P.A.C.E. also taught me how to manage my time better, and I shared this with my line too.”
With a 50 percent increase among Cambodian female garment workers who feel they can positively influence their coworkers and a 36 percent increase in those who feel they are able to take on greater responsibilities at work, P.A.C.E. participants advance at 3.1 times the rate of other workers at the same factory, according to vendor evaluations. And, as more than 72 percent of women who have completed P.A.C.E. report higher levels of self-esteem, the percentage of women who have made plans to achieve their future aspirations has doubled.
Now, with a higher position at her factory, Phally sees her potential not only as a leader among women in the factory, but also as a business owner selling groceries with her husband. She says, “After P.A.C.E., I learned that I needed to have goals for my life to support myself and my family, and that if I saved my money, opening my own business would eventually be possible.” With financial literacy lessons, Phally has learned to cut her household spending by 50 percent: “My husband has been impressed with how much money I’ve been able to save, so he decided to start saving like me. He now agrees that we should spend less than we earn every month.”
As P.A.C.E. continues to grow and evolve based on the differing needs of program participants and the distinct cultures of each country, it will teach women outside of factories the skills needed to find jobs, manage finances, and maintain successful small businesses.
Dotti Hatcher, Executive Director of P.A.C.E. Global Initiatives at Gap Inc., says, “We recognize the value in extending the program beyond the workplace to enable other women in local communities throughout the world to benefit. By offering P.A.C.E. on a broader scale, even more women will have a chance to advance in their work and personal lives and help build stronger families and communities for the future.”
To learn more about P.A.C.E. and how it invests in women, click here.
Illustration by Kate Slovin