In Campaign Asia-Pacific’s annual Diversity Study in partnership with Kantar, one of the key findings is that the rate of action in the industry is not matching up to the acknowledgement of the importance of issue. And where debates around DEI issues in the workplace are no more a novelty, the radical step forward is actual, meaningful change.
For this study, the results of which were revealed this afternoon at Campaign Asia-Pacific's Leading Change conference, just under 800 respondents across 18 markets in APAC participated, more than double the number of responses we collected last year.
Let’s go through the findings in more detail.
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that almost half the participants this year are men, up from just a third in previous years—an encouraging sign that more men are more inclined to understand the prejudices their peers face or call out the prejudices they face themselves.
The proportion of male respondents increases with age, making up 25% of the under 30s and 64% of the over 50s, and this effect is strongest amongst white respondents. This indicates that senior white, male leaders in APAC want to contribute to the conversation.
Overall, 65% of men believe all genders are equally respected, but only 44% of women agree with them. And 25% of men admitted that they receive more respect because of their gender while more than half of women (53%) see their male colleagues receiving more respect than them.
This indicates that three quarters of men in the industry are operating with the belief that men do not get better opportunities in the workplace by virtue of their gender.
On the other hand, some men feel the effects of ‘reverse discrimination’; some 18% of men feel they have missed out on an opportunity because of their gender, or they’ve been expected to do overtime because of their preconceived roles in society. This could be due to many reasons: men being in a women-dominated industry or workplace, or the sexualisation of women leading to more client- or public-facing roles.
While these issues delve deeper into archaic and outdated notions of gender roles—men as breadwinners and women as maternal figures—it must be acknowledged that these roles still exist in many markets in APAC, even if subtly.
And while it’s affecting both men and women, findings show that women feel the more laborious and weighted impacts. If we keep our eyes focussed on progress, we’ll have to understand that the real enemy here is not men, but rather the patriarchy and the gender-based values it represents.
One key finding this year is the exceptional pressures that female breadwinners face, perhaps owing to the pandemic shifting the way we work. Of the 45% of women who said they have missed out on an opportunity or promotion because of their gender, this is more severe among female breadwinners (62%). They suffer more negative impact from work, with 45% saying office culture has negatively contributed to their mental health.
This statistic goes hand-in-hand with 49% of women saying they feel pressure to conform to gender stereotypes. In 2020, after lockdowns which brought on implications such as childcare and home-based learning, even fewer reported feeling no pressure to conform to gender stereotypes. Presumably this reflects the widely reported impact on women of taking more of the increased burden at home. And this is not just reflected at home, these ‘tasks’ are expected of women even in the office.
Gender-based issues can also intersect with age, with both women and men reporting as more likely to miss out on opportunities because of their age. Forty percent of men report missing out on a promotion or opportunity because of their (older) age, while 53% of women say the same because of being either too young or old.
On the bright side, instances of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviours in the office have declined in 2021, with 52% of respondents saying they have not experienced any harassment in 2021, compared to 42% in 2019. Of course, this could be a natural reflection of staff working from home and not being exposed to usual office environments.
Last year, at the onset of the most recent wave of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we saw that race and ethnicity was top-of-mind for many in APAC. This year, this number improved slightly, with 42% saying that those of different races are treated equally, compared with 35% last year.
Nevertheless, it’s still a worrying number and one that is worse in a multi-ethnic region like Southeast Asia, where nearly half of respondents say that one ethnicity is respected more than another. In a more racially homogenous market like India, this figure dropped to 22%. But of course we cannot ignore that other issues may be present such as religious bias and colourism.
Overall, 61% of people said that equality across all backgrounds and races is mentioned as a corporate value, and yet, 34% of people feel that meetings are dominated by people who are not the same ethnicity or race as them.
On top of that, culture differences play into how talent in APAC are thinking and talking about race. For example, 53% of white people always feel comfortable to call out race-based prejudices, but this number drops to 27% for Chinese people.
This perhaps indicates that it is more challenging in Chinese culture to call out prejudices despite Chinese being the biggest ethnicity that felt that they had missed out on a promotion or opportunity because of their race. Other races and nationalities that felt heavily discriminated in the region include Malay, Thai, Indian and Sri Lankan.
We are amid a global mental health crisis, and unless you’re a tyrannical billionaire dreaming about investing in space exploration, you are likely to have felt some mental burden from this pandemic.
We know that issues mentioned above, such as gender, age and race, can play a role in mental health, for better or worse. For instance, those who have healthy workplace dynamics around gender and race feel more inclined to call out prejudices in the workplace. As a result, they also have better physical and mental health; they report as being “less depressed” or having “better quality of sleep”.
Meanwhile, those who have missed out on opportunities due to race or gender feel that work is having a negative impact on their physical health (55% of those who said they missed out due to gender, 52% due to race) or their mental health (59% gender, 53% race). They may feel emotional or vulnerable at work (47% gender, 42% race), or they may feel depressed (40% gender, 36% race).
Adding to the pattern above about female breadwinners, this group was found to suffer more from the mental stress of Covid (see chart below).
Overall, nearly half (47%) of companies still don’t have an active policy to prevent or support mental health issues and fewer than half (43%) of those who had suffered from mental health challenges felt supported.
The big disconnect
The most important takeaway from the survey this year is that there’s an evident disconnect between company policy and affirmative action.
For instance, there was an uptick this year in companies outlining equality across all genders, backgrounds and races as a corporate value, as well as increases in organisations conducting surveys on diversity within the past year and organisations having a DEI committee or a nominated DEI leader.
You might think this all sounds hopeful—and it is—yet a whopping 70% of respondents say that their organisation’s policies around diversity have not improved the situation in their workplaces in the past two years.
Meanwhile, the scores on more action-based solutions remain perilously low. Only 14% say their organisation conducted and announced the results of a pay-parity review and a measly 31% of companies actually allocated funds or resources for measures and actions related to equality in the past five years.
When we spoke to organisational psychologist Evelyn Chue last year, she mentioned the latter point as the biggest barrier to improving mental health in workplaces. “Many people do approach me, which means that they’re aware that their employees require some sort of support right now. But when it comes to looking at actually investing, they might say ‘the priority should be the business first’,” she said.
So clearly, there is a disparity between words and policies and ‘lived experiences’ in the industry. When asked what can be done to further progress in the industry, women’s top ask is for pay parity (24%), development opportunities (19%) and unconscious-bias training (14%). Men, meanwhile, don’t see pay parity as so much of a priority, instead prioritising development opportunities (24%) and unconscious-bias training (14%).
And until the speed of execution and resource-investment happens at the speed of organisational intent, talent in the industry will continue to demand for more than lip service.
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The Campaign-Kantar DEI Study investigated working adults' perceptions and experiences of equality in media and marketing workplaces across APAC in April 20, 2021 and May 20, 2021.