A few days ago, countries around the world, Vietnam included, celebrated the accomplishments of women — a yearly observance when societies become so open to discussing why women’s influence should never be disregarded. But ever since the United Nations first established the holiday in 1975, has this one-day yearly event really addressed the very reason we celebrate it?
Yes, the celebration ended three days ago, but we’re not done talking about women empowerment and gender equality.
While gender gaps in labor market participation and educational attainment have narrowed, women around the world still encounter a glass ceiling when trying to reach the company boardroom, where female representation remains low.
In Southeast Asia, women face an uphill struggle to reach the boardroom, or at least have the manager title, compared to their male counterparts. While some of the challenges are present and experienced by women elsewhere in the world, there are unique structural and cultural factors in the ASEAN region that create additional hurdles for women. Unconscious bias and cultural expectations are also prominent, region-specific inhibitors that could prevent female advancement at work.
According to the latest Board Gender Diversity in ASEAN report by the International Finance Corporation, the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets, “Having women in business leadership positions is good for company performance, confirmed through an analysis of more than 1,000 companies in six countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.”
“According to our study, Thailand is the most gender-diverse country in the ASEAN region, with women holding 20.4% of board seats in listed companies, followed by Vietnam (15.4%) and Indonesia (14.9%),” IFC reported.
In the 2020 World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap report, Vietnam ranked 31st, scoring 0.751, the same as Canada and Mongolia.
“The fact that women are persistently less present in the labor market than men contributes to the Economic Participation and Opportunity gap. On average, about 78% of adult men (15–64) are in the labor force, while only 55% of women of the same age range actively engaged in the labor market. This means that over 30% of the global labor force participation gender gap has yet to be closed,” WEF stated.
Closing the gap between men and women in the workplace is still a long process, for Vietnam and the world in general.
Greater female leadership
Female leadership matters. All other considerations aside, it results in better performance.
Studies have shown that companies with greater gender diversity, not just among the workforce as a whole but specifically among senior leaders, are more profitable. So, the answer to the question “why is women’s leadership important in our world?”, the answer is simple: it gives us better results.
Problem is, when it comes to stepping into power as leaders, it’s clear that women face some pretty big challenges.
In the same IFC report on Board Gender Diversity in ASEAN, they found that companies with more than 30% female board membership were associated with greater company financial performance, compared to companies with no women on their boards and companies where women accounted for less than 30% of board membership. “In companies with no women board members, the average Return on Assets (ROA) was 2.4%. In companies where women accounted for more than 30% of board membership, the average ROA was 3.8%.”
Vi Võ, who works as Human Resources Specialist for an electrical and electronic manufacturing company in Ho Chi Minh City, agrees that women contribute to the value of the company. “Women leaders tend to be more understanding, and care genuinely.”
Vi, who reports to a female manager in her department, believes the best part about having a woman leading the team is she can communicate freely and can express her thoughts and ideas without feeling inferior.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer, highlighted a cultural bias that exists against female leadership during a conference with Fulbright University students on Friday, March 5.
The Facebook COO asked Vietnamese students to fight for greater female leadership.
“Cultural bias is global. It’s true in Vietnam, it’s true in the United States,” she said. “Women are often told they’re too aggressive or bossy. There’s a cultural stereotype against female leadership that we haven’t fixed yet.”
The Vietnamese Government has long been an advocate of gender equality, and the country performs better than many of its ASEAN peers on many equality metrics.
Ten years ago, it was the first time Vietnam prepared and developed its first remarkable National Strategy on Gender Equality (NSGE) that defined the direction and priorities to promote gender equality in the period 2011-2020. During the years of implementation of the NSGE, Vietnam has been one of the countries in the Asia-Pacific that has made a lot of changes and progress on gender equality in many socio-economic fields.
In 2017, a far larger share of female Vietnamese employees had positive views of their companies’ policies, efforts, and progress towards gender diversity than their richer Malaysian and Singaporean counterparts, the IFC released.
And as Vietnam entered a new decade, the government had recently set new targets for a 2021-2030 National Strategy on Gender Equality. The country expects to see women holding key leadership positions in 60% of state management agencies and local administrations at all levels by 2025, and 75% by 2030.
The strategy also defined a number of new goals for the country to further make progress in gender equality in various areas and fulfill its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
In the same way, it is expected that by 2025, the number of paid women employees will increase to 50%, and around 60% by 2030, while the rate of female directors or owners of businesses is expected to reach at least 27% by 2025 and 30% by 2030.
The country also aims to reduce the average time women spend doing unpaid housework by 1.7 times by 2025 and 1.4 times by 2030 compared to that of men.
By 2025, 80% of women suffering from domestic and gender-based violence will be given access to at least one of the basic support services, and the figure is expected to reach 90% by 2030.
In addition, gender and gender equality are planned to be integrated into curriculums at schools and pedagogical universities from 2025.
Starting this year, Vietnam will hold an annual month-long campaign for the promotion of gender equality and gender-based violence prevention and response from November 15 to December 15.
Vietnam’s commitment in developing the new National Strategy on Gender Equality 2021-2030, had support from the UN Women and Australian Embassy, and the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA).
The NSGE is an important part of the country’s socio-economic development strategy and serves as the foundation of the human resource development strategy of the leading Communist Party and the State.