Glass ceiling reinforced by “lingering gender stereotypes” still prevalent in Asia Pacific

Author: PM editorial | Date: 28 Sep 2016

Singapore’s female representation at board-level of less than one-in-ten is “embarrassing” says Willis Towers Watson

A glass ceiling enforced by “lingering gender stereotypes” is holding women back from reaching board level in Asia Pacific organisations.
 
Almost a third of Asia Pacific organisations have no female board members and only nine per cent have a female CEO, according to a new joint report by Willis Towers Watson (WTW) and The Economist Corporate Network.
 
The main reasons for a drain of women at the mid-level of organisations, which could lead on to a lack of senior-level opportunities, were the need for a work-life balance; a need for career breaks; and a lack of flexibility during childcare years.
 
“The absence of women from senior leadership positions can have long-ranging implications in today’s work environment, including high female attrition rates and diminished female leadership pipelines,” said Naomi Denning, co-chair of the Inclusion and Diversity council for Asia.
 
Focus groups were held across the APAC region, in which many participants said that young women still face social pressure to marry rather than focus on their career.
 
Perception of the existence of a glass ceiling was highest in Singapore, where 63 per cent of respondents believed it was holding women back. In Hong Kong, only 36 per cent agreed and in Malaysia 45 per cent believed it to be a problem.
 
Another report by BoardAgender, an initiative of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations, said that while female board representation had increased to 9.7 per cent in 2016 from 6.4 per cent four years ago, a figure of less than one in ten was “embarrassing.”
 
“I think in Singapore we tend to also hide behind the façade of meritocracy but it’s still an old boys club,” said Junie Foo, chair of BoardAgender and head of corporate banking, Singapore at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi. “We are probably ranked third from last [in Asia], with only Japan and Korea worse than us. It is embarrassing if Singapore wants to be a financial centre.”
 
The WTW report suggested “psychological enablers” such as sponsors and role models are more useful in reducing the gender imbalance than practical solutions such as flexible work arrangements. This is partly because of the stigma that is still attached to making use of flexible working hours and appearing “less committed” than colleagues who work traditional office hours.
 
Hong Kong was found to have the world’s longest working week by the United Bank of Switzerland (UBS) earlier this year, with employees working an average of 50.11 hours a week. In 2014, a working hours survey by Morgan McKinley found that 82 per cent of Singaporeans still work longer than their contracted hours, with the majority saying they felt culturally obliged to do so.