Extending Gender Diversity to All of Asia

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

November 1, 2022

Women representation in the society has always been an issue globally. In some parts of the world, women do not have access to basic rights such as proper education and healthcare. Working women also have to face several stigmas if they try becoming independent or start comparing and working shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts in companies.

Women have to deal with everyday comparison starting from their homes to their workplaces. This issue is particularly predominant in Asian societies – owing to years of culture as to what a woman’s responsibilities are. Women are always considered to be homemakers and the first preference to compromise with their career to bear and raise children in Asian societies. This leads to a considerable dent in the talent pool of an economy.

A pressing issue that has been the theme of many international forums – the need for a more gender-diverse participation in workplaces. This forms the crux of one of the themes being discussed in the upcoming Horasis Asia Meeting, being held between 20 to 21 November in Kitakyushu, Japan. The event will host 400 of the foremost business and political leaders from across Asia and the world, as they discuss ways to revitalize Asia’s economy in building a resilient post-COVID Asia.

Companies’ Gender Issues

Companies, particularly in Asia, have been rampant with male-dominated culture and a common understanding that women cannot succeed in the corporate world as she is more suited to manage homes and raise children.

Women in Asia-Pacific, contribute around 80% of the unpaid care work in the region. If included in the measurement of GDP, unpaid care work undertaken by women in Asia-Pacific would add US$3.8 trillion to the regional total GDP.

Asia is going through the grips of a growing aging population, coupled with a lessening talent pool in the market. This is creating a double-whammy which experts believe can have a devastating effect on Asia’s economy in a decade’s time.

Considering this scenario, it becomes paramount for companies and also governments in Asia to devise policies that are more favorable to working mothers and women generally in the workplace. Put simply, if better working conditions are proposed for working mothers, more would prefer working even after giving birth; while we will witness more participation of women in diverse sectors in Asia.

Presently we see there is more women participation in the education, healthcare and the retail sector. But to ensure that we rightly address the growing issue of reducing talent and growing need for diverse skillsets in the workplace, women will be needed.

Benefits of Gender Diversity

Presently, women participation in boardrooms in Asia and women participation in companies’ leadership roles are lagging. A recent report by Deloitte reveals that on average, board seats held by women have increased to 19.7% in 2021, from 16.9% in 2018 globally. Meanwhile, that of Asia has only risen to 11.7% from 9.3% in the same period. Within Asia, Malaysia leads boardroom representation by women at 24%, followed by Thailand (17.8%) and Philippines (17.7%).

But there’s already work-in-progress to ensure women participation in companies is given a priority. South Korea has put in place an initiative to increase the number of board positions held by women at public institutions to 20% by 2022. The country suffers with boardroom participation of only 4.2% women.

Having a gender diverse board has its ups. Research by Credit Suisse reveals that boards with at least one woman has displayed higher return on equity than companies with no female board representation. Additionally, net income growth for companies with women on the board has averaged 14% over the past six years (2008-2012) compared to 10% for those with no female board representation.

Another study conducted by the International Finance Corporation reveals that corporate boards with 30% women, result in higher environmental, social and governance standards. This means that such companies will display stronger internal controls and management oversight, reduced risk of fraud or other ethical violations, positive workplace environment, greater stakeholder engagement, and improved reputation and brand.

Demand for Women Participation Increases

Post-COVID, the demand for more women participation at the workplace has risen significantly. Consumers, shareholders and even investors are demanding women to lead critical senior leadership roles in multinational companies to ensure fairness, transparency, and better sustainable growth.

Asian companies can heed to this call by taking the below steps:

  • Training and equipping future women leaders – Companies should identify and nurture women showing tendency for growth and learning. This will play a vital role in stronger women participation in the boardroom and overall better employee retention and career growth prospects for female employees.
  • Seamless entry and better working conditions for working mothers – Companies should develop policies that encourage more female recruitment in their organizations. When recruiting, an unbiased approach should be taken to ensure equal participation by both men and women. Working mothers should also be allowed leaves for maternity, including easy access to re-enter the workplace.
  • Lastly, companies should invest in educating and developing awareness among male employees, the need and importance of regarding their female counterpart as equal contributors in the workplace and also generally in the society.

The Horasis Asia Meeting follows on the heels of the Horasis India Meeting, held between 25-26 September 2022 in Vietnam. The India Meeting was attended by 400 leaders from both the business and government diaspora. To know more about the event, click here.

Photo Caption: Companies and also governments in Asia must devise policies that are more favorable to working mothers and women generally in the workplace