DESPITE concerted efforts on the part of many regional governments to get women into the workplace, gender equality still remains a distant dream. In fact, globally, we’re heading in the wrong direction.
According to World Bank data, women’s labour force participation fell from 51.3 percent of women in 1990 to 48.4 percent in 2018. Women remain half as likely as men to have full-time wage jobs and those who have paid work earn up to one-third less than men.
According to the Economist, in 2018, just 7 percent of government leaders, 15 percent of board members and around 3 percent of chief executives were female.
Governments across Asia Pacific have voiced their desire to change this; from Malaysia’s Career Comeback Programme, to Japan’s “womenomics” initiative. While progress has been made on some fronts, these schemes have been met with varied success and are making painfully slow progress towards the goal of 50/50 representation.
The issue of gender parity is a complex one; sadly, there is no one-size-fits-all golden ticket to realising gender equality in the workplace. Asia Pacific is an incredibly diverse region, with each country standing at different stages of gender parity, so different policies will work better in different places.
The responsibility in achieving equality also does not solely lie with one actor in the chain. While government policies are of course hugely important in kickstarting change, it takes true collaboration between government, companies, NGOs, and society at large if the 50/50 dream is to be realised. All stakeholders will need to step up, appreciate the role they play in maintaining the status quo and start to implement these crucial actions needed to change it.
This understandably seems like a behemoth of a task given the pervasive and ingrained nature of gender bias. But it’s something that every person has the power to act on and effect change in the local community.
Societal attitudes that consider women to be the primary caregivers and homemakers are the root cause of many of the issues women face in the workplace.
It is the primary cause for women leaving work once they have a child or if a family member becomes sick.
It is also behind the bias and discrimination – whether conscious or unconscious – that many women face in the workplace.
Shifting this isn’t easy, but it can be done. On a business level, management consultant McKinsey & Company found having trained male champions to lead the charge has an impact in changing underlying bias in a company. Governments need to educate people through public information campaigns or legislative changes. And the media needs to be conscious of the messaging they are putting out.
And crucially, place women in positions of power, break down the stereotypes and allow them the space to succeed. The results will be proof enough of a woman’s competence.
Make the tech work for you
Technology can be a lifeline for getting many women into the workforce and earning money.
The spread of the internet allows more women than ever to take advantage of the flexible working, even running businesses from their living room.
This accessibility allows them to work when it suits them, giving flexibility around other life commitments that may otherwise hold them back. Striking this balance between work and family life – a major contributor to women not being in the workforce – is more easily achieved.
It also means more women can stay in work when, in the past, they may have been forced to resign due to family/work conflicts such as having a baby or needing to care for family members. This, of course, applies to everybody, but women regionwide are more likely to be detrimentally impacted by these expectations.
On a purely practical level, it can also save time and allow women to be paid for home businesses thanks to access to online banking services that, until recently, many didn’t have. Women need no longer be beholden to their husbands for access to family funds.
Improving internet infrastructure and, in some cases, tackling the cultural attitudes that prevent women from having full access would make a significant difference in women’s access to work.
Hold companies accountable
Much as having women in leadership roles is now seen as a badge of honour, let a failure to employ women and pay them equally be a badge of shame.
As the British government recently did, governing bodies across Asia-Pacific can demand that companies disclose their payment and corporate structure. Those that fail to level the gender pay gap can be named and shamed.
A company’s name and standing is of the utmost importance when it comes to doing business. Threaten them with public embarrassment and they’ll likely start changing their approach quick sharpish.
Get women into leadership
It’s been proven that women promote women. Women are more aware of qualified women in the pipeline than their male counterparts who are more likely to overlook female candidates.
Seeing women in the top job also gives other women much needed role models and the opportunity to have a sponsor and coach in their career path.
Education and training programmes help to build the pipeline of qualified female candidates. And solid mentorship programmes specifically for women are shown to make a radical difference.
This is particularly beneficial in top government positions, there is proof that electing women radically improves life for mothers and families, as was witnessed in the 1980s when Iceland elected a female president.
Make workplaces more female friendly
The modern workplace is not a friendly place for many women. The system isn’t designed to enable taking care of a family and holding down a quality job. And women are disproportionately the ones to take the hit when it comes to sacrificing career for family care.
This results in women doing four times the amount of unpaid work than men. If more women are to enter the workforce, this needs to change.
To free women up to do more paid work outside of the home, McKinsey suggests policies promoting parental leave and flexible working so many are able to contribute more to the family workload. On top of this governments and companies need to expand affordable childcare, improve household and transport infrastructure, and deploy digital technologies.