Opinion: Win the war for talent by focusing on women

Author: Wanda Wallace | Date: 21 Oct 2015

Managers must work harder to support and retain brilliant Asian women, says Dr Wanda Wallace

Wanda Wallace
Despite the economic, religious, cultural and linguistic differences throughout Asia, there is one constant: competition for talent is incredibly fierce and unrelenting. In some places, if a company can hold onto a great employee for just nine months, they are doing very well.
Talented women in particular have so many opportunities open to them, that an educated, competent, linguistically proficient woman can leave her job one morning and walk into another later that afternoon - and command a higher salary.
So how can managers solve this seemingly unsolvable problem? Throwing money at the problem doesn’t work, as employees choose to move on from an organisation for a whole range of intertwined reasons.
My answer is simple, but not easy: manage women brilliantly.
Organisations that prove they can manage women’s careers fantastically will not only benefit from the expertise and diversity of thought these women bring to the workplace, but will stand out from the crowd as an employer of choice, for men and women alike.
Asia’s national companies are competing for talent against international organisations with headquarters in the West and operations in Asia, and have become very attractive places to work for the best talent.
Women across Asia are increasingly choosing to go to work for international companies for several reasons. A desire to work abroad is a major motivating factor for many. Anecdotally, there is the notion that Western organisations might offer women greater career options than local companies, particularly in countries where religious or cultural traditions have great influence over women’s roles.
Less developed countries in the region might struggle to attract international female talent simply because of the infrastructure and services offered there - something that an employer has little control over.
I worked with a high-potential executive, born in Asia, who was educated in North America. She had come home to join her parents and be part of her country’s exciting growth. She was making a career there and doing well working for a multinational company. As her career advanced, her children reached school age. There were no English-language schools that could offer her children the level of education they could gain in Europe or North America.
If her employer was able to offer her the chance to move to another country - which offered better schooling for her children - she would stay and remain very loyal. If not, she would go to a competitor – and many competitors wanted her.
Given the external complications and fierce competition, what keeps great female leaders in organisations? Quite simply, they stay with an organisation when the answer to the following question is “yes”: Does the company I’m working for offer me an opportunity for my career growth?
Women stay if they are incredibly well managed. A good manager who gives feedback and provides opportunities is absolutely vital. She also needs the support of a great coach (internal or external), help making global connections, opportunities to increase her responsibility and the chance to be part of global initiatives. Micro-management is a road block to her career progression.
Talented females stay put if they have a manager who looks out for them. This means helping them advance their career, giving them feedback that helps them get ahead, and, crucially, helping them negotiate the complicated political structures that stand in their way. Without this manager, there is no reason to stay. There is always more money available at another job.
Like anyone working for a company with a foreign culture, Asians raised in Asia can struggle with the ‘western’ communication style. Many of the meetings are conducted over the phone on conference calls, often held at very late hours – putting tough demands on employees based in Asian time zones.
Asian cultures typically expect employees to not assert themselves so strongly. They often wait to be asked for their opinion.
With these two constraints, Asian employees literally cannot get a word in edgeways compared to their Western colleagues, who are all often in the same room together.
A great manager can help shift the scales in two ways: they can control the pace of discussion by moderating calls to make sure everyone, even those on the phone, gets a chance to speak. They do this by leaving a gap, or calling on Asian colleagues directly to state their opinions. Good managers learn to shut up so employees can have a say. They can also make sure their employees understand that they can - and should - speak up.
Another, more challenging conundrum is that of culture clashes around regulations. In many highly-regulated industries, the conflict between the regulations enforced in a multinational's home country, and those of the local market, create a minefield for employees.
But the answer is the same: great management has to become the norm. Great managers have to coach and create opportunities for locals to thrive in their careers – in both national and international companies.
Dr Wanda Wallace is president and CEO of Leadership Forum, Inc, an international consulting and training firm. She has written several books and also presents ‘Out of the Comfort Zone’, a radio show broadcast on Voice America.