Saudi Prince Pledges $32 Billion to Good Causes, With Women’s Rights a Focus

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A good move for Saudi Arabia, which is known to be widely criticized for its women inequality. Looking forward to read the strategy to learn more on the planned actions to improve gender equality in the country. A full article can be accessed through the following link: http://www.wsj.com/articles/saudi-prince-pledges-32-billion-to-charity-with-womens-rights-a-key-focus-1435762281

 

Women’s leadership: How to close the gender gap in Asia

Asian Development Bank had an interview with Dr. Astrid Tuminez to discuss the issue of women’s leadership in Asia and the ways to improve the advancement of women in high-levels of management. Read the interview here.

Women Leaders and the New Asian Century

Women Leaders and the New Asian Century[1]

Astrid S. Tuminez, Maria del Mar Garza and Lilia Saetova

Gender equality in Asia has advanced significantly in the last three decades, as measured by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. More women in Asia have access to tertiary education and consequently enter the labor market, with a chance to advance to leadership roles. However, a gender gap still persists: the more senior one goes up the leadership ranks, the fewer women there are.  And, in Asia, gender inequality is rooted in entrenched cultural variables such as the tendency to value girls less than boys.  This disparity in valuation of female versus male lives leads to continued female feticide, family decisions to invest less in girls’ than boys’ education, and continuous obstacles to women’s leadership.

To continue the discussion of possible solutions to promoting female leadership in Asia initiated in 2012 with the launch of the Rising to the Top? Report,[2] the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Microsoft, Rockefeller Foundation and Oxfam brought together senior leaders from government, corporations and non-profits at a symposium in Bangkok, Thailand, in April 2014. While Asia has been advancing economically, it confronts complex problems pertaining to severe inequality, widespread environmental degradation, and intractable conflicts. To effectively address these challenges, Asia needs to tap all of its human and leadership capital, male and female.

At the Bangkok symposium, participants from the government, corporate, and non-profit sectors sought to explain the ongoing problem of gender inequality in leadership in Asia and highlight potential solutions.  Participants from the corporate sector (Microsoft and CIMB) noted that diversity and inclusion are conducive to building a competitive advantage for teams and organizations, and to promoting creativity and innovation in the workplace. Women’s leadership must be at the core of any discussion of diversity and inclusion. A recent Fortune 500 analysis showed that organizations with higher female representation delivered 53% more return on equity to shareholders than those with fewer women[3]. However, to achieve genuine diversity and inclusion, Microsoft’s experience suggests that diversity must begin at the top and must also be part of managers’ performance targets. Generous and supportive maternity leave policies and flexible work conditions for women also help maintain work-life balance and helps women in their child-bearing years to stay in the workplace and continue to advance as leaders. Nonetheless, experience from the financial sector also emphasizes the need for not only institutional change, but, more importantly, change of attitudes. In Singapore, for example, only 30% of corporate leaders think it is important to have women on the board. A shortfall in creating the value proposition for gender diversity in the corporate sector still remains and must be addressed.

Women inspired to pursue careers in the public sector also find it challenging to make it to the top echelons of authority and decision-making.  Research conducted in Thailand revealed that, in many cases, organizations have no discriminatory policies and women perform as well as men.  Women also enter public sector careers at roughly the same numbers as men.  But after a certain point in time, the career paths of men and women diverge: men continue advancing to leadership roles, while women are left behind. One of the main reasons for this is that women continue to bear greater responsibilities at home and, with motherhood, those responsibilities increase intensively.  This is the “first hidden barrier to leadership” that women face. In sum, the unequal distribution of family responsibilities prevents women from moving forward in their careers.

Further evidence suggests that less female representation in leadership roles is not due to lower levels of education among women compared to men; on the contrary, in countries such as Malaysia and Thailand, more women than men are enrolled in universities. However, the overall picture in Asia-Pacific shows that 14% of women enrolled in tertiary education do not work at all and only a negligible number of well-educated women reach leadership positions. These factors are deeply rooted in prevalent cultural norms, values and attitudes, concludes Dr. Juree Vichit-Vadakan from the National Institute of Development Administration of Thailand. In many cases, women do not receive the approval and support at home that they need to enable them to invest more fully in their professional roles. These cultural factors result from a long and large socialization process involving family, school, university and media. Thus, changing cultural values by transforming how people think, perceive and believe will enable a positive shift towards greater gender equality.

In Thailand, continuous advocacy efforts for gender equality have resulted in an 8% increase in women’s participation in the public sector in the last 24 years. Such advocacy work targets three levels: 1) the general public—to increase social acceptance of women’s achievements and changes in gender roles; 2) political parties—to conduct activities prior to elections, generate space to discuss specific policies for women, and increase women’s representation in political parties; and  finally, 3) women candidates—to provide intensive mentoring and training, and to create  networks among elected women leaders and women organizations to create awareness of challenges that women face.

A representative of UNDP emphasized some of the contributions of women as leaders.  Higher female participation in the public sector, for example, helps better prioritize health-related issues in policy-making. Women are also better at creating a collaborative environment within different parties, and their involvement in peace-making processes enhances the chances for long-term success. However, notwithstanding these positive contributions, Asia still lags behind in female participation in the public sector. The 2010 Regional Human Development Report identified three broad areas sustaining this trend: stereotypes of women’s traditional roles, political barriers, and economic barriers. Moreover, the report also suggested that economic development and democracy are a necessary, but not sufficient, solution to women’s participation in the public sector. Examples from Afghanistan and Japan confirm this statement and underline the need for design and intentionality when addressing the issue of gender inequality.

A speaker from UN Women argued that the low participation of women in the public sector is also due to prevalent unconscious bias and gender stereotyping that privileges men over women. A strong and well-documented evidence for this is the persistent wage gap between men and women. Another example is persistent discrimination against women as public sector leaders. To address cultural bias and gender stereotyping in the public sphere, some countries have resorted to affirmative action in the form of quotas for women participants and leaders. In countries where such quotas have been adopted, the number of women in parliament and other elective offices has increased.

Representatives from media emphasized the lack of female representation in leadership roles in their sector. Young female journalists have difficulty finding female leadership role models.  It is particularly important to have more women decision-makers and leaders in media because what they do could potentially promote gender inclusion, educate the general public, and raise the level of debate on such gender-related issues as sexism, teen pregnancy, violence against women and women’s leadership.

Civil society is also a driving force in improving gender diversity in leadership. A representative from Cambodia noted that civil society has underpinned efforts to increase women’s political representation in Cambodia. From 2005 to 2012, the percentage of women elected in local governments increased from 8% to 17%. These figures are encouraging, but more needs to be done.  Many male political leaders in Cambodia remain reluctant to support more women leaders because they view the situation as zero-sum:  if women reach higher levels of authority, men will be left behind.  A discussion is needed to help male leaders appreciate better the unique perspectives and contributions of their female counterparts, and to help advance the notion of healthy competition based on merit rather than gender.

Oxfam, a development organization that works in Asian countries where gender inequality is the largest challenge to poverty reduction, addressed the issue of women residing in rural.  A core challenge these women face is limited access to markets, information, credit and mobility. Oxfam works to empower rural women by investing in rural companies and cooperatives, and providing training to their members. These companies promote women’s participation at all levels, including in decision-making positions. However, culture, including traditional gender roles and traditional beliefs, remain a difficult barrier to overcome. To help overcome cultural variables, Oxfam has established women-led cooperatives, with the goal of changing perceptions of women and their potential contribution as leaders.

Finally, the non-profit sector, while having more women leaders than other sectors, exemplifies vulnerability in leadership.  Salaries offered in non-profits are significantly lower compared to the private or even public sectors. This tends to exclude men from pursuing non-profit careers because the compensation offered is not enough for them to sustain their roles as breadwinners. Thus, the main challenge faced by non-profits has less to do with the underrepresentation of women than with building more savvy and competitive human capital. Women leaders in the non-profit space need to learn better and do more to sustain what they do without having to rely constantly on the good will and generosity of external funding agencies.

To advance women’s leadership and promote greater gender equality in Asia, strong political will and commitment are critical in the private, public and non-profit sectors.  The region has already made progress in gender equality, but it is not enough.  For all of its new affluence, a “rising Asia” can continue to rise in a more sustained manner only if it is able to tap the talents and leadership contributions of all its men and women.

[1] For a full version of the report from which this article is derived, please see the following link: http://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Women-Leaders-and-the-New-Asian-Century_Final.pdf

[2] Tuminez, A. S. (2012). Rising to the top? A report on women’s leadership in Asia.

Available at: http://issuu.com/nuslkyschool/docs/wpla?e=2655212/2688250

[3] Carter, N.M. (2011). The bottom line: Corporate performance and women’s representation on boards.

 

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Mr. Haresh Koobchandani, Managing Director, Microsoft Thailand

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Symposium participants

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Symposium speakers (from left to right): Dr. Maytinee Bhongsvej, Secretary General, Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women, Thailand; Ms. Caitlin Wiesen, Regional Manager, UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Center; Ms. Roberta Clarke, Regional Director, UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific; Mr. Jeff Bullwinkel, Associate General Counsel and Director of Legal & Corporate Affairs, Asia Pacific/Japan, Microsoft

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Symposium speakers (from left to right): Ms. Sasiya Sophastienphong, Regional Enterprise Development Program Coordinator, Oxfam; Ms. Chaliya Sophasawatsakul, Global Digital Vision Producer, Oxfam; Ms. Srisak Thaiarry, Executive Director, National Council for Child and Youth Development, Thailand; Ms. Thida Khus, Executive Director, SILAKA Cambodia; Ms. Fern Uennatornwaranggoon, Senior Program Associate, Rockefeller Foundation

 

 

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Symposium participants

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Dr. Astrid S. Tuminez, Regional Director, Legal and Corporate Affairs, Southeast Asia Microsoft

 

 

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Dr. Juree Vichit-Vadakan, Advisor and former Dean, Vice-President and President, National Institute of Development Administration, Thailand

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Symposium participants

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Symposium speakers (from left to right): Ms. Watanan Petersik, Independent Director, CIMB; Ms. Siriyupa Roongrerngsuke, Executive Director and Head of Human Resources Program, The Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration, Chulalongkorn University

Ms. Nattha Komolvadhin, TV Journalist, Thai Public Broadcasting Service

 

 

Asia and the Pacific: Closing the Political Gender Gap

Last week saw the release of the annual Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum. Interestingly, Asia and the Pacific lead on political empowerment with 24% of its political gender gap being closed; the Middle East and North Africa takes last place for political empowerment at 7%.

Iceland has the smallest gender gap of the 136 countries in the report, and the other Nordic countries are close behind it. Yemen has the largest gap, followed by Pakistan, Chad, and Syria. The United States comes in 23rdplace. Saudi Arabia, where some courageous women stood up to a driving ban last weekend, ranks 127th out of 136 in the index overall.

To read the full report, visit the World Economic Forum site.

Empowering Women in Vietnam

The recent event “Empowerment of Women in the Public Sector in the Context of International Integration” held in Hanoi, focused on furthering the dialogue on women’s leadership in Asia. The event brought together experts in the industry, business leaders and policy makers from the public and private sectors, representatives of ministries and departments, academics and government representatives from more than 20 provinces and cities in the country.

The agenda of advancement of women in the public sector took center stage. UNDP Country Director Louise Chamberlain expressed the importance of women by stating that they have half of all decision-making positions given they make up half of the world population.

Photo courtesy of Vietnam News.  

 “Promoting women’s participation in the public sector was not only a matter of justice, but also a matter of ensuring all perspectives are brought forward as men and women bring divergent experiences to the table,” she said.

Experts proposed eliminating the disparity in retirement age between men and women as a means to promote women’s leadership in the public sector and counter gender disparities. Bakhodir Burkhanov, UNDP Country deputy director, stated that the gender differential in the mandatory age of retirement, which is 55 for women and 60 for men, was the main barrier to women’s participation in the political system. The disparity also limited their chances for promotion and access to training and development given that taking women out of the pool for promotions earlier than men meant fewer women occupied senior positions.

Citing recent research from the report “Rising to the Top? Women’s Leadership in Asia,” Regional Director of Microsoft Astrid S. Tuminez expressed the need to address cultural norms and persistent prejudices against women and girls that hinder women’s advancement. The former vice dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy recommended approaches for policy makers in Vietnam in an effort to enhance the capacity of leadership for women working in State agencies. In addition, she proposed creation of a government fund focused on implementing gender equality policies and enhance gender education to change the perception of women and girls. Nguyen Phuong Nga, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, stressed the importance of the quality of human resources, particularly women’s leadership capacity in the public sector in Vietnam.

International and local experts devised strategies such as merit-based hiring systems, training for female civil servants, and promotion of men’s role in household and childcare roles in order to promote women’s advancement and strengthen women’s rights. Vietnam proposed the organized and international friends to concentrate direct support for these objectives, specific targets of the strategy, especially the national programme on gender equality between 2011-2015. The importance of women’s role was seen crucial in promoting economic growth and social development in both developing and developed nations.

For additional information on the event, please click on this link.