‘Success never comes easy—the reward you eventually get is commensurate to the amount of hard work and determination you put into it.’
TikTok has over 1 billion active users across 154 countries worldwide. That’s a lot of stories being told on our mobile phones every minute. But who’s telling TikTok’s brand story? Filipino strategic communication professional Belle Baldoza is. As the Global Director of Brand Communications for Product and Technology, Belle is TikTok’s communications architect who’s focused on driving the consumer tech giant’s product and brand narrative.
Based in TikTok’s offices in Toronto, Canada, Belle was formerly the Head of Communications for Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan at Airbnb. She also worked at ByteDance, TikTok’s holding company, as well as Netflix, Spotify and Uber—platforms that were disruptive whenthey first came out and changed the way people live. Unbeknown to us, Belle has touched our lives in the way we tell our own stories, the way we travel, and enjoy music, movies and shows.
Born in Manila and a cum laude graduate of Broadcast Communications from UP Diliman, Belle started her career as public relations officer at the Araneta Group, followed by stints at Ogilvy Public Relations and Mindshare. In 2019, Belle was named by Provoke Media as one of the Innovator 25 in Asia-Pacific and 12 Global Rising Stars set to become influential chief communications and marketing officers of the future.
As a woman leader in the consumer tech space, she’s been described by colleagues as someone that’s “always ready to roll up her sleeves for the toughest of tasks and has a natural ability to bring out the best in her people. Belle builds high performing teams by trusting her people and giving them opportunities to thrive and grow.”
What is your leadership style?
I typically view my leadership style as a player-coach—someone who is passionate about harnessing others’ talents while also putting in the hard work to achieve the team’s shared goals. If I’d sum up my style in three words, it’s empathetic, collaborative and supportive.
My commitment to every team doesn’t stop at achieving business goals, as I genuinely care for each team member’s development as individuals. I don’t think differences in leadership style are dictated by gender, but rather by individual personality and why they are driven to do the things they do.
If I’d sum up my leadership style in three words, it’s empathetic, collaborative and supportive. My commitment to every team doesn’t stop at achieving business goals, as I genuinely care for each team member’s development as individuals.
What are the benefits of having women in leadership roles?
Women leaders have the unique ability to show other women that they can break new ground, transcend boundaries, and carve out their own paths with the right combination of determination, hard work, and opportunity. We are fortunate to live in a world where anyone can discover new things, unleash their creativity, and connect with others with shared passions and interests across geographies and cultures. I’m truly thankful for being able to be part of a platform that brings together over a billion people around the world to be entertained, inspired, learn something new, and unlock meaningful opportunities. It is a special place where I’m empowered to dream bigger and aim for the highest through impactful narratives and integrated campaigns.
What do you think is the behavior or trait that derails women in their careers? What is it that lets them flourish?
The common issues I’ve encountered across various mentoring sessions I’ve had with young women through the years were around their concerns on their years of experience, not meeting the job description, or even the fact that they have not stayed in their current roles long enough to muster the courage to explore another role. And I’ve always shared the same advice: as women, we are only as limited as the boundaries we impose upon ourselves.
One should have the courage to look inwardly and tell themselves, “What have I got to lose by taking this one step?” With the right balance of courage, self-awareness and determination, I consider someone already successful just by venturing out of their comfort zone and trying their best.
How did you navigate power structures when you were starting and how do you navigate them now?
Growing up as the eldest daughter in my family, I’ve always believed in my own voice as I was always empowered to speak up and make decisions, especially after my father’s untimely demise when I was 12 years old. This outlook has served me well throughout my career, as I constantly try my best not to let any power structures or politics derail me from believing in myself and what I have to offer, whether as a team member or leader.
This outlook has also instilled in me a certain courage to explore and take on roles that, on paper, I wouldn’t otherwise have been ready for: roles that often involved being a pioneer, a builder, or a change agent. In fact, this outlook was also instrumental in starting my journey in the consumer technology space.
A decade ago, a then little-known music streaming company called Spotify just opened their Asia HQ and was looking for someone to drive their communications efforts across the region. Despite my lack of experience in consumer technology and not being able to speak Mandarin, which was among the key requirements of the role, I still sent over my CV, with confidence that my passion for music will shine through throughout the application process. Thankfully, the team saw through my passion so I ended up joining the pioneering Asia team and Global Communications team for a platform that changed the way we enjoy music forever.
Did you have a role model or mentor? What are the lessons they taught you?
This is a great yet tough question. I’ve looked up to a lot of women throughout my life! Like most Filipino households, my mom was an omnipresent figure in our home, and I grew up seeing her effectively manage all aspects of our lives with an amazing combination of kindness, patience and grace. Attending the University of the Philippines from high school through college, I was also heavily influenced by strong female characters in the form of my English teachers, who not only helped cultivate in me a love for literature but also the belief that you have the ability to shape, tell a story, and make your voice heard.
Find and embrace your own ‘Why Not?’! If there was anything good to come out of the global pandemic, it has taught us the importance of living life urgently—and truly living your life also means embracing your own truths.
I also grew up really looking up to Jessica Zafra, whose sharp and somewhat cynical style of writing really spoke to me during my angsty teenage years. I also have a long list of female music icons I admire but among the top of that list would be Gwen Stefani (“Tragic Kingdom” was one of the first albums I ever bought with my own money), and from the day I discovered No Doubt’s music, I have been in awe of Gwen’s unapologetic and eclectic personal style.
Grace Magno, now the VP for Corporate Marketing at SM Supermalls, who was my first boss, taught me the value of keeping your fun and quirky personality intact even as you make waves in the corporate world. I am forever grateful for her wisdom, compassion and support which she has generously lent to me throughout all these years.
Other women I look up to as role models include Global Marketing Executive Bozoma Saint John, who was most recently the Chief Marketing Officer at Netflix; and Eva Chen, Director of Fashion Partnerships at Instagram. Boz has had such a remarkable career in the face of several challenges, including losing her husband and being a single mom, I really admire her incredible ability to continue being unapologetically herself and owning her badass persona, inspiring women from all over the world with her passion and purpose for what she does both on a personal and professional level. Meanwhile, Eva has successfully combined and leveraged the tech and fashion worlds to her advantage, and I admire her for her authenticity as she gives hundreds of thousands of her followers a glimpse into her real life, which involves juggling motherhood and her day job as a female leader.
What’s your advice for women to advance professionally?
Find and embrace your own ‘Why Not?’! If there was anything good to come out of the global pandemic, it has taught us the importance of living life urgently—and truly living your life also means embracing your own truths. And sometimes, you can only find these truths when you venture out of your comfort zone or make that much-needed pivot. Get comfortable with charting the uncharted. You’d be surprised with what you’ll discover about yourself because, why not?!
What is your secret in balancing career and family/personal life? How hard was it for you and what was the breakthrough moment when you said, “I got this!”
Work-life balance is a concept that doesn’t resonate with me so much as ensuring work-life harmony. I believe that every phase of our lives demands a certain set of priorities. Given that these things may change all the time, one has to make peace with that fact and be comfortable riding out the ebb and flow. As I’ve faced and surmounted many challenges throughout my life, I constantly remind myself of an adage I hold dear, Ad Astra Per Aspera (a rough road leads to the stars).
Success never comes easy—the reward you eventually get is commensurate to the amount of hard work and determination you put into it. Life is a marathon, never a sprint, so learn as much as you can along the way, even if you make some wrong decisions and come across failure. Never shy away from learning as much as you can and never feel entitled to anything. Even after living and working across four countries, I feel like I have yet to experience and learn so much, so I’m always looking forward to what life has yet to offer and teach me. Getting comfortable in one’s own skin and with all the cracks beneath the surface requires a journey of learning and self-awareness—and it would also not be possible without learning from fellow women and allies along the way.