With all the chatter around inclusivity, and the recognition that gender equality brings good morale and business, it would seem that we’re all on a path to gender equality in the workplace.
Sadly, the statistics paint a very different picture – a much more dire one in fact. Globally, fewer than 40% of leadership roles are filled by women, and in APAC, that percentage is even lower at 25%.
71% of people now say they think men and women are treated equally at work, down 13 points from 2017, according to Campaign’s 2019 Diversity Study with Kantar. The same report reveals that 51% believe men are more respected by top management than women, up from 28% in 2017. And almost a third of respondents now say that meetings tend to be dominated by male staff, an increase of 8% from 2017.
These are abysmal statistics but few attendees we talked to at Women Leading Change 2019 were surprised by them.
Natalie Kalfus, senior counsel (director), marketing legal APAC at Netflix, notes, “I’m not surprised by this. Gender bias is a long-standing issue that impacts a lot of industries.” Elsie Cheung, SCMP’s COO concurs, “When I go to meetings, at a leadership level, I’m the only woman!”
Fear appears to be a factor that’s preventing a significant degree of change – and it isn’t just fear from women, but also from men.
Angelyn Varkey, marketing director, Asia, Aon, points out the dilemma that women are often put in – “Should I take some time out of work to focus on my family, but risk losing out on career advancement opportunities?”
There is a systemic stigma that women should pursue certain types of industries. In the media industry, for example, women are not encouraged to go into the ‘hard’ news beats and are encouraged to go into ‘soft’ news that is often perceived to be less prestigious. At Japanese news companies, men outnumber women 6 to 1, with men making up almost all of the decision-making positions on governing boards and in top management.
Studies also show that 75% of men are apathetic towards gender equality. Bob Grove, chief client and operations officer, Asia Pacific, Edelman, has a different take on the issue, "'Apathetic’ is too strong a word. I prefer to use the word ‘passive’. Perhaps they [men] support [diversity] initiatives... but they don’t actively engage because they fear they’re going to make a mistake.”
Some companies are tackling this head-on. Edelman, for example, has committed to participating in panels that have equal representation and have committed to track and report on progress. They have also developed a communications training module tailored for female spokespeople. The SCMP’s workforce and leadership team are made up of 50% male, 50% female. They too, have committed to only participating in equal representation panels at events. Netflix has seen a surge in female-directed originals in 2019, accounting for a third of all of the network’s original features.
Aon’s Varkey is taking the lead in her company, by telling female employees that “We are here for you. It’s fine to take time [off], to start a family.” More and more companies such as Bloomberg and Novartis, are also enhancing parental leave to be both longer and gender neutral. This is a clear signal that gender equality can only be achieved when men have equal opportunities to be caregivers.
As more and more C-suites are championing equality in the workforce, hopefully, by this time next year, we’ll have more encouraging statistics than the ones at the beginning of this article.