Gender Diversity in the Asian Workplace – Does It Truly Exist?
‘Guilt gap’ – an almost unheard of term, but one that many women, especially across Asia, can relate to. The concept of the guilt gap centres on the notion that women are more susceptible to feeling some form of parental guilt, as they feel that the onus of caring for their children and their homes falls upon them. This guilt is exacerbated for working women, as Asian societal norms have dictated that the place for women is in the home. This puts a working woman into a bind, as she is deemed to have fallen short in her role as both a mother/wife and an employee, and thus she experiences increased guilt compared to a man.
Over the years, many companies worldwide have tried to rectify gender inequality in the workplace by implementing programmes to bridge the gap. For example, Abbott, Honeywell, Pfizer, Visa, and others have designed programmes that allow women to advance their careers from the get-go. Another company, Kimberly-Clark, has seen an increase of 66 per cent in women taking up roles in senior positions within the company. This is due to the company’s efforts to provide development opportunities, training, and flexible work schedules to ensure that the women working with them can meet their obligations, both professionally and at home.
Asia has also seen some progress over the years in closing the gender inequality gap, with governments in Japan and Singapore addressing the issue in recent years. Last year, Singapore announced that it is doing more to address gender inequality, and it is currently preparing a white paper on the issue to be discussed in parliament in the middle of this year. However, Asia's progress has been slow compared to the West, mainly due to the region's social conditions and expectations.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has derailed the progress that Asia was making. The pandemic has caused many women across Asia to lose their jobs. The sectors that were worst affected and had to implement layoffs were largely based in the retail, F&B, and informal employment sectors – the majority of which were positions filled by women.
Japan is a prime example of how COVID-19 has disrupted the workforce. For many years now, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has emphasized ‘Womenomics’. Abe's push for a balanced workforce has seen its female employment rate hit more than 70 per cent. However, the pandemic has brought to the surface the reality that many women hold jobs that have no proper security, making them dispensable.
Between April and July 2020, Japan saw more than half a million women lose their jobs in the hotel and food service industry, the lifestyle and leisure industry, and the wholesale and retail industry. In comparison, male employees made up fewer than 100,000 job losses in each of these industries. Despite being in the same industries, women are more susceptible to job losses than their male counterparts. The job losses sustained by women can be attributed to many factors, including the social understanding that a woman is not the sole breadwinner and thus it is more important to keep a man employed over a woman, or that women are needed at home to assist their children with online schooling during the pandemic.
Reshaping workforce diversity should be an important issue for Asian companies to address moving forward, as according to a 2020 report by McKinsey, diversity in the workforce equals profitability. The report also indicated that gender-diverse companies are 15 per cent more likely to achieve above-average profitability than companies that lack gender diversity. The study also showed that companies with more than 30 per cent female executives ‘outperform’ other companies.
Bearing these statistics in mind, Asian companies should re-evaluate their gender diversity strategies in the workplace and implement proper protocols to ensure female employees are not getting the short end of the stick.
JapanSingaporefemale workforcegender diversity workplacegender inclusion workplacegender diversity workplace Asia