Creating an enabling environment for women at work

July 24, 2021 | 11:00
Women continue to play an increasingly important role in workplaces and business organisations. Kamal Malhotra, UN Resident Coordinator in Vietnam, talked to VIR’s Thanh Van about the ins and outs of women’s fortunes in today’s workplaces.

From job openings to moving up in their career, how do you see the improvement and also challenges of gender equality issues at the workplace and in business organisations in Vietnam?

Creating an enabling environment for women at work
Kamal Malhotra, UN Resident Coordinator in Vietnam

In Vietnam, women constitute 47.7 per cent of the labour force and make up 26.5 per cent of business owners and CEOs, making a significant contribution to the economy. However, gender equality is still far from being achieved.

Bias and discrimination against women exist at all stages of the human resources cycle. Starting with job descriptions and job advertisements, many examples can be found of language used that makes it more likely that men will apply. During the recruitment process, inherent biases in selection panels can lead to the shortlisting of fewer women. And in interviews it is common that women are asked insensitive and inappropriate questions, like whether they are planning to start a family, that are inherently discriminatory in nature.

Once on board, women disproportionately to men face sexual harassment in the workplace and, as the data shows, are less likely to be promoted than men. In most occupations, men are paid more than women too. The gender pay gap in Vietnam stands at 13 per cent, which cannot be explained by differences in hours worked or educational attainment. A key factor seems to be the double burden for women, as they are expected to shoulder most of the family responsibilities while pursuing their careers.

In addition, the traditional expectation of domestic and family care responsibilities is preventing many female workers from competing in the job market on equal terms with their male counterparts. Women in Vietnam spent on average 20 hours per week on housework in 2019, while men on average spent only 10 hours. This limits the time women have for paid work or for career development.

In particular, there is a bias against women in management – women are clearly underrepresented in management across enterprises in Vietnam. The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) research shows that women’s underrepresentation in management positions becomes more prevalent at the highest levels of management. This phenomenon is known as the “leaky pipeline”.

How important is gender equality in the workplace, and what should be done to create a gender-inclusive workplace?

There is exhaustive evidence in favour of gender equality in the workplace. Studies by the ILO, McKinsey, and the World Economic Forum show that companies that are more diverse, apply policies and practices promoting gender equality, and have more women in leadership positions perform better on metrics such as profits, revenues and stock performance.

According to the March 2020 Gender Equity Insights report by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Center, when there is a 10 per cent increase in female representation in management, the firm’s value in the market increases by 4.9 per cent and business efficiency increases by 6 per cent. These financial indicators are a clear demonstration that increasing female leadership and workers truly improve business performance. Companies that empower women are not just embracing gender equality, they are reaping greater financial benefits.

Companies are also advised to implement better workplace practices to promote equal opportunities which will lead to performance benefits. These include equal pay for work of equal value, more education, training and professional development for women, gender-responsive supply chain practices, and zero tolerance against sexual harassment in the workplace.

However, given norms and culture in societies, and the predominance of men in senior management positions, change might not come fast enough to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals that Vietnam has ascribed to; therefore, additional government regulation such as temporary quotas for corporate boards or publication of companies’ gender pay gap can be useful, but only as transitional measures, to accelerate gender equality.

What is UN Women doing to promote gender equality at the workplace and in business organisations?

UN Women works at different levels to create an enabling environment for businesses to actively promote gender equality in the workplace, as well as to enhance successful women’s entrepreneurship. For gender-responsive legislation and policy change, UN Women partners with the Ministry of Planning and Investment to support the development or strengthening of female-led small- and medium-sized enterprises.

For capacity building, it also works with various stakeholders such as Vietnam Women Entrepreneurs, Vietnam Women’s Academy, and the Vietnam Women’s Union to develop and implement training and capacity building resources and tools for women entrepreneurs on business management and leadership, including for startups.

Finally, since 2012, UN Women has been actively engaging with the private sector to promote the seven Women’s Empowerment Principles to guide business leaders to realise gender equality in the workplace, the marketplace, and the community. Over 5,000 companies have become signatories of these principles worldwide. In Vietnam, CEOs of 106 companies have too, signalling their commitment to practice greater gender equality in the workplace, the marketplace, and the community.

By Thanh Van

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