Article: State of women leaders in ASEAN


State of women leaders in ASEAN

Within ASEAN member states, as is reflective of larger trends across the APAC, women representation across top jobs remains significantly low. We take a look at how the situation has evolved over the years.
State of women leaders in ASEAN

The lack of women leaders vis-à-vis their male counterparts has been an issue of debate across many countries. This issue is of primary importance for one of the most dynamically evolving economic regions of the world: ASEAN. With a building workforce marked with technological disruption and shifting demographic preferences, an equally accessible top leadership is more important today than ever.

Like many such economic regions across the globe, ASEAN finds itself split when it comes to having women in senior business leadership positions. While countries like Singapore and the Philippines have made significant strive in enabling women to overcome barriers that set in late in their corporate career and deter many from taking up top positions, countries like Indonesia and Malaysia fall toward the end of the spectrum. For many, the barriers that lay within the region extend to more than just a problem of skills and education and extend to a larger problem of perception and bias that limit women's access to top positions.

A report in the ASEAN Post highlighted the divide when it came to top positions. Malaysia, the report noted, was the region’s worst performer for the ratio of women to men in managerial level positions and above to be only at 26 women for every 100 men. Categorised as having an extremely high level of gender inequality for this indicator by the McKinsey Global Institute in its publication ‘The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in Asia Pacific’, Malaysia is followed by Indonesia at 30 women to 100 men, Vietnam at 35 women to 100 men, Myanmar at 40 women to 100 men, Cambodia at 45 women to 100 men, and Thailand at 48 women to 100 men. These numbers fare much better for countries such as Singapore and the Philippines.

Within the region, A Willis Tower Watson report highlighted three key reasons for women dropping out of the talent pipeline as she moves higher were the lack of flexibility during childcare years, career breaks and work/life balance preference. Lessons to improve such a state of low senior-level employment can also be found within the region, especially when it comes to monitoring the impact of how well has progressive public policy been able to improve the situation. Singapore and the Philippines are two such nations that have witnessed a rise in women in senior leadership. According to a recent Women in Business report by Grant Thornton International, 87 percent of businesses polled in Singapore have at least one woman on their senior management team, and this number is an increase of nine percent over the past year.

But with such numbers, Singapore still has a long way to go. In Singapore, women now make up 33 percent of senior management team among businesses polled, the highest it has ever been. However, only nine percent of businesses polled have a female CEO, lagging behind ASEAN’s 21 percent by a significant proportion. According to the report, this demonstrates that while there are increasingly more women getting a seat at the senior leadership table, gender parity in top roles is still a long way off.

When it comes to effort to get more women in senior management roles, 28 percent of all respondents in Singapore and the majority of female respondents (52 percent) said that their businesses are not taking any actions to improve gender balance. The number is higher than the ASEAN average of 12 percent and the global average of 25 percent. The Singapore data has shown that finding the time alongside core job responsibilities and lack of access to developmental work opportunities are two key barriers that prevent women from acquiring the skills and attributes to be successful in their leadership roles, the report added.

The Philippines fairs much better, as the Mckinsey report notes, and is one of the most gender-balanced workforce. the Philippines displayed progressive policymaking for gender equality in the form of a quota mandate for women in government jobs, as well as empowering the state to take measures to encourage gender diversity in the private sector. Such policies have had a positive impact with women remaining within the job sector for longer and as a result, are able to compete for top position with the male counterparts. Such initiatives have been further strengthened by creating an enabling environment where many of the barriers that hinder women’s long term job growth aspirations. These involve offering flexible working hours and family support programs like on-site daycare, as well as other women-focused skill-building programmes, mentorship programmes, and quotas in senior positions. This has proven vital in ensuring women are able to procure senior level positions in the region.

It is also important that in addition to general workforce development policies, ASEAN leaders are able to pass policies that aim to tackle the growing divide in senior leadership in their respective countries. Studies across ASEAN show that targeted policies are also necessary to develop and further progress on women’s skills and entrepreneurship abilities at the national and regional levels. Even within companies, its imperative for HR professionals relooks their talent succession planning to create a more gender-balanced senior leadership. The Willis Tower Watson report mentioned earlier also explained chief ways to boost women senior leadership options. Mechanisms like providing flexible work arrangements to help retain women, female managers and senior female leaders as role models, Sponsors/Mentors for women leadership candidates, in addition to tackling conscious bias is to help ASEAN companies create a more gender-diverse senior management.

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Topics: C-Suite, Diversity

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