In Southeast Asia, gender equality at work has grown significantly. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap report, women now represent 42% of the region’s workforce, higher than the global average of 39%.
Promisingly, gender parity has improved across the three subindexes of Political Empowerment, Economic Opportunity and Attainment, Educational Attainment and Health and Survival.
Despite these considerable strides, it will still take another staggering 132 years to close the gender gap. And even as we continue to work towards gender equality, it is important for organisations to embrace a more critical benchmark in measuring inclusivity – attaining gender equity.
Why Gender Equity Matters
Traditionally, organisations have worked towards gender equality – promoting fairness by providing everyone with the same opportunities. Gender equity takes this a step further by acknowledging that men and women have different needs and support to deliver fair and equal opportunities.
To retain talent in a labour-tight market – even in the face of economic uncertainty – organisations need to restructure their policies to address the equity gap.
Inclusivity is essential for driving growth because:
- Having an arsenal of diverse cultures within the business allows the company to relate to more clients from different backgrounds.
- Having both males and females across age groups helps shed light on different perspectives when a strategic decision is to be made.
- Workplaces with higher rates of diversity and inclusion make employees feel more accepted. This in turn boosts happiness and morale in the workplace which often leads to higher productivity rates as well as lower turnover rates.
Here’s how organisations can attract diverse talent and help bridge the equity gap.
3 Ways to Promote Gender Equity
Reduce bias during hiring
Gender bias in the hiring process can be unconscious. In the hiring process, gender bias often starts with job announcements.
Here are some tips for hiring managers to reduce hiring bias:
- Keep job titles gender-neutral. Avoid stereotypically masculine titles like “superhero” and “hacker” that tend to appeal to men. Use neutral terms like “engineer” or “project manager”
- Avoid including gendered terms job descriptions. Studies have shown that certain adjectives can unconsciously signal a gender preference. For example, the use of the words “pleasant” or “sensitive” tend to signal a female gender preference, and the words “dominant,” “achievement-oriented” or “ambitious” can signal a male gender preference.
- List only the must-have requirements. Studies show that women tend to apply only when they meet 100% of requirements listed, while men will apply so long as they meet 60%. Leaving out criteria that aren’t necessary will encourage more women to apply.
Develop robust, fair career development policies
Studies regularly show that women are just as and want to be promoted. Unlike their male peers however, women more often need to overcome hurdles and microaggressions to be recognised. This may be anything from being mistaken as someone junior at work to something as serious as sexual harassment.
To attain equity, strong policies need to be enacted and supported by the management.
- Actively encourage women to progress. Like the rationale behind listing only must-have requirements, studies show that men will pursue promotion if they have 80% of what’s required, whereas women would only do so when 100% is attained. Managers should have regular structured conversations with employees to discuss their advancement.
- Recognise all voices and contributions. Women put more effort into staff well-being and diversity, vital in building strong morale and culture. However, these contributions often go unnoticed in performance appraisals. Capturing these in appraisals will go a long way in giving credit for a diverse range of work.
- Adopt flexible work arrangements. Women prioritise flexibility of work culture, often so they can balance caregiving responsibilities that disproportionately fall on women’s shoulders. Company mindset should be shifted from hours in the office to delivery and achievements.
- Managing compensation transparently. All starts with providing clear information. In Singapore, we are seeing a step towards this on MyCareers Future where salary must be published.
Diversify top management
Seeing more women promoted to senior management has a positive impact on retention of junior female employees. To do this, set targets for diversity for the board and for senior leadership positions.
In filling board seats, organisations should also look beyond existing talent pools.
Avoiding Common Pitfalls
In addition to enacting positive policies, it is also important to weed out negative conduct. Here are some common pitfalls that organisations face.
Prioritising star-performers who misconduct
Organizational cultures in which harassment flourishes tend to excuse or ignore bad behaviour from star performers. This sends the message that women’s well-being is less important than keeping rainmakers happy.
A case I recently came across sums up the top reasons why senior female employees quit. There was an incident in which the female employee sexually harassed by a team member. When she went to share this with upper management, she was confronted with the following:
- Not taken seriously / her judgement was questioned
- The harassment was belittled
- Lack of recognition for contributions to employee welfare
These are not as uncommon as people like to think. To avoid this, organisations need to prioritise clear communication, transparency, and demonstrate consequences of negative behaviour. These take time and trust to build, but are vital in providing a safe workplace that promotes equity. When more women are in positions of power, sexual harassment—another drain on the retention of women—also declines.
Exacting a “motherhood penalty”
“Motherhood penalty” refers to the phenomenon in which women receive fewer opportunities and lower wages than childless women or men – even those who are fathers.
Aside from regular pay audits and clear career anti-discrimination policies, organisations can go a step further to promote equity. For instance, one of our clients extended the start date of a female candidate who told them she was pregnant to include maternity leave.
Being too focused on numbers alone
Sometimes, organizations can be too focused on the numbers/percentages/ratios. These may show us that there is a ‘good amount’ of women in the organization and lead to the notion that we don’t have a ‘diversity issue’. This hides how power or decision-making is organised. They can be seen as irrational and therefore de-prioritised in high-stakes decision-making.
As we reflect on the progress made towards achieving gender equity, it’s clear that there’s still much ground to cover.
Organizations that embrace equitable policies, transparent career advancement and compensation practices, and diversity targets for their leadership teams can not only attract and retain the best talent but also drive better strategic decision-making. By prioritizing diversity and inclusion, companies can harness the full potential of their workforce and pave the way for a more just and prosperous future.
Jessica manages the Investment Management team, which specialises in hiring front-office business-critical talents across Credit, Alternatives and Equities in both the Public and Private markets. Having worked extensively with firms in this region, she is an expert matter in these markets and has built long-term relationships with strong professionals.