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being a female in a leadership position can be tough - so what is it like in Asia?

Posted by Louise Whitelaw on Sep 12, 2017 11:29:35 AM

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The role of women in the workplace has come a long way in just a few decades. Closing the pay gap and being considered for opportunities to move up the same as men have increased positively across the world. We are seeing a greater number of women-owned businesses flourish and large corporate giants governed by female CEOs.

There is still a rocky road to walk and long-held attitudes to overcome if we want to reach complete gender equality.

We have made great strides, but opposition, both passive and active, for women in leadership roles still exists. A variety of issues mire a female's ability to progress in the workplace at the same rate as men. Unfortunately, there's great evidence of this everywhere, especially in Asia. A 2016 survey by found that 66% of working women in Singapore feel they have been treated less favorably in their career progression than men.

Holding a leadership position as a female poses particularly difficult challenges in Asia. Fortunately, Asian women have access to similar educational opportunities as men. Even so, Asian women occupy just over one percent of the CEO, CFO, country head, and related positions. Working women in Asia face three specific roadblocks that hinder their ability to break through the "glass ceiling".


Lack of family-friendly workplace policies.

Other areas of the world have been faster to embrace the importance of creating a satisfactory work-life balance, but companies in Asia struggle with this concept. Demanding jobs where the 8 to late workday are common and an employee's full attention is mandatory. Time off and flexibility, while not unheard of, are definitely not the norm. Employees who take advantage of these type of benefits are often looked upon with scorn, as a sign of lack of commitment to the job. It seems that women who are motivated to climb the corporate ladder must make great sacrifices to their personal lives to complete the expected work so they can move up. In addition, there are less-than-attractive maternity leave programs. Many companies based in Asia don't even have gender equality on their radar as a potential initiative, causing numerous women to leave the workforce when they get married and start a family.

Strong social pressures.

The traditional family unit in Asia establishes the woman as the caretaker. Handling the home and children are considered her responsibility, as is taking care of aged relatives. Women pursuing a career must deal with these pressures along with work pressures, with little support. Lots of times it's just too much, and the woman decides to leave the workforce to focus on family commitments. Females who put their careers on hold for just a few years usually never catch up to their male counterparts who never took a break. This pushes leadership roles out of reach.

Lack of mentors

As a society that puts pressure on females to perform in traditional stay-at-home roles, sometimes it's difficult for a woman with leadership aspirations to find proper mentors that are widely available to men. Male mentors tend to work with other males, and, with the proportion of women leaders as lopsided as it is, that leaves women with fewer choices. This is a big issue, as a helpful mentor can drive a young person's career success and guide them to build powerful relationships and skills.

We note these three roadblocks because they specifically contribute to why Asian women are not gaining more ground in gender equality. They are as well-educated as men, but tend to have a harder time getting hired, get stuck holding lower-level jobs, and don't move up as fast as their working male counterparts. Taking time off to raise children further decreases their chances of moving into leadership roles.

Fortunately, there is some good news that leads us to believe that change in how gender affects Asian women in their careers is possible. In the last few years women have begun serving in political leadership positions in greater numbers. In Forbes' article"The World's Top 100 Most Powerful Women" Asian females snagged an impressive thirteen spots. This gives us confidence that although the fight for gender equality in Asia is still far from over, there have been key wins along the way. It's isn't impossible to women to achieve a leadership position, it's just much harder than for men.

Topics: industry insights, workforce planning, diversity, flexible workforce, talent management