Women are dismally under-represented in corporate Asia, with only six percent of them seated on the boards and eight percent on executive committees of 744 companies. The 10 countries represented in the study were Japan, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, and Australia. Asia’s results are at rock bottom compared to the figures posted of women corporate leaders in Europe where 17 percent are in boards and 10 percent in executive committees, and in the United States where representation is at 15 percent and 14 percent, respectively.
The report entitled Women Matter: An Asian Perspective further found that the dearth of women leaders in top positions in companies is not the only problem. There was, in fact, under-representation at every level. Authored by Claudia Süssmuth-Dyckerhoff, Jin Wang, and Josephine Chen, the research found that the level of female participation in the labor market in Asia tends to be lower than that of the West, making it more difficult to “begin feeding the pipeline” that puts women in senior positions.
Could it be due to the lack of female graduates? No. Of the 10 markets studied no shortage of university graduates exist, with Australia, Malaysia, and Indonesia posting figures of as much as 57 percent. However, they “become increasingly under-represented at the senior levels of corporations – facing different obstacles in different markets, at different stages of their careers.” The reason, says 40
percent of Asian business leaders surveyed, is more likely the “double burden” placed on women: they have to hold a job and look after their families at the same time.
Unfortunately, increasing women representation in Asia’s corporate world does not seem to be a priority among 70 percent of the Asian executives studied. This is in contrast with Europe where only 47 percent of the executives held that gender diversity was low on the priority list.
The issue on gender inequality does not only apply to corporate Asia. In the United Nations Development Programme’s annual Human Development Report (HDR) for 2011, Asia’s Gender Inequality Index showed that “women lag behind men in all dimensions …particularly in parliamentary representation, education, and labor force participation.”
What happens if the gender gap persists in corporate Asia? Companies risk losing the best talent and performance benefits that women can bring to an organization. Even in computer industries which are perceived as decidedly male, balanced representation of women is important as it “leads to more innovation, more “out-of-the-box” thinking, and more collaboration,” says Sabrina Lin, vice president
and managing director of Cisco Systems’ marketing organization in Asia Pacific, Japan, and Greater China.
Dr. Süssmuth-Dyckerhoff concludes that for women to be equally represented in Corporate Asia, “an ecosystem of supporting measures including management commitment; women’s development programs, and a set of “enablers” that help ease women’s progress through the company (such as human resources policies and processes, and indicators that track inequalities and improvements)” will have to be put in place. However, this will entail the help of governments and the wider business community for it to succeed.