Women presence in world of work: The Reality in rough numbers

June 09, 2021 | 16:23
Athough almost three-quarters of the Vietnamese female working-age population has been consistently contributing to the labour force for over two decades, Vietnamese women still face numerous barriers to employment equality – particularly following COVID-19, as they have been shown to be more susceptible to unemployment than men.

According to the Asian Development Bank and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, in 2019 around 79 per cent of women aged between 15 and 64 were either actively employed or looking for jobs in Vietnam, compared to 85 per cent of men. While there is still a gap, Vietnam has consistently outperformed other ASEAN and most Western countries, with its higher female labour participation rates.

women presence in world of work the reality in rough numbers
Women presence in world of work - The Reality in rough numbers

Adverse pandemic impact on employment equity

A report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) shows that following the emergence of the pandemic, female participation in the labour force continued on a negative trend, dropping further in 2020, as women have been more vulnerable to pandemic-related job displacements than men.

Young women between the ages of 15 and 24 years as well as those from 55 years accounted for 28 per cent of the labour force in 2019. However, in the third quarter of 2020, this decreased to 24.7 per cent. With a larger proportion of women than men leaving the labour force, Vietnam’s labour participation gap has increased.

It is being deemed a disappointing turn of events, as Vietnam had been globally renowned prior to COVID-19 for its consistent gender balance in labour participation. In order for Vietnam to regain this stature, the obvious disparities and challenges faced by the female half of its population during the pandemic will need to be acknowledged and addressed.

Qualifications women hold in Vietnam

Reports by the International Monetary Fund show that men and women in Vietnam graduate at roughly the same rate at the postsecondary level.

This is a result of Vietnam’s successful translating of gender parity into education, which has, in turn, lead to an almost level gender participation rate in the labour force.

A report by McKinsey & Company shows that female graduates account for over half of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in the country, more than 30 per cent of the master’s degrees, and 17 per cent of the doctorates.

Similarly, another ILO report showed that of all the active women in the labour market, 10 per cent have completed tertiary education, whereas only 5 per cent of men have done so.

Despite women’s qualifications, occupational stereotypes and gender bias still tend to make men the preferred hire. According to the ILO, this is especially true in highly professional or technical jobs, despite women’s equal qualifications.

Women in senior roles

Studies by the ILO showed that women tend to have more limited access than men to high-quality employment opportunities, particularly in high level or senior management positions, where fewer and fewer women are represented the higher the position.

This sort of recession is known as a “leaky pipeline”, describing a commonality around the world where fewer and fewer women are present in higher leadership and management positions.

This is evident through surveyed enterprises by the ILO in Vietnam, where 63 per cent indicated that women were present at the supervisory management level, 73 per cent confirmed that they had women as middle managers, but only 15 per cent answered that women held top executive positions. A recent report by Grant Thornton, however, indicated that women are holding their own in HR and CFO roles.

Throughout history, social and cultural norms around the world have ingrained in women that traits that are commonly associated with them – such as kindness, empathy, and compassion – do not make good leaders. Instead, to succeed as a woman, they must emulate traits commonly associated with men such as ambition and aggression.

Though not all women share the same leadership styles, many women bring a broader range of qualities that are necessary for modern leaders such as self-awareness, empathy, humility, emotional attunement, and authenticity.

For a company or an organisation to overlook women and their potential as leaders and high-level managers would be to dismiss half of their potential workforce and their ability to be competitive in this modern global economy.

Skilled and unskilled Vietnamese women

Many unskilled women seeking paid work are pushed towards the informal economy. According to a report by the Munich Personal RePEc Archive, despite the large numbers of women in the workforce, the large majority are unskilled and untrained and work in labour-intensive sectors, such as footwear, textiles, food, and manufacturing, as well as processing, porcelain, and glass.

Meanwhile in Vietnam, according to the World Economic Forum, female attainment in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields is half as many as men at 15 per cent compared to 31 per cent.

Female entrepreneurs in Vietnam

Cited by the recent Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, a report covering how women in business are progressing globally, 26.5 per cent of business owners in Vietnam are female.

The study suggests that this is due to their stronger inclination to start a business or engage in entrepreneurial activities than their male counterparts – with the activity rate for women in Vietnam being 24.8 per cent, against 21.7 per cent for men.

However, bias and stereotypes are still persistent for female entrepreneurs as women are more likely to own retail and wholesale businesses as opposed to manufacturing and industrial enterprises.

Average monthly salary

Reports by the General Statistics Office this year showed that male workers earn VND7.6 million ($330) per month on average, which is 1.2 times higher than female workers who are paid VND6.6 million ($287) on average.

Regarding the public and private sector, the gender pay gap in mean hourly wages in the private sector is 10.3 per cent, whereas it is 7.2 per cent in the public sector.

By MyLan Holland

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