Women in APAC cite fulfilment as most important career priority

Author: Kate Whitehead | Date: 14 Sep 2016

Surveys shows being satisfied at work is more important than work-life balance – and a mentor could help

Women’s top career priority is to have fulfilling and rewarding work, according to the results of a survey by recruitment consultancy Robert Waters.
 
Compiled from the responses of more than 4,400 men and women - both clients and job seekers - across the APAC region, the research sought to understand how to best empower female employees into leadership roles.
 
That women hold relatively few top jobs, despite accounting for almost half the workforce in most countries, is no surprise, but some of the report’s other findings challenged preconceptions.
 
Asked what their priority was in terms of their career, 42 per cent of women said they were looking for something fulfilling and rewarding, compared with 32 per cent who sought a good work-life balance. This compared to 35 per cent for men in both categories.
 
“We didn’t expect that. Among our clients, there is always an assumption that female employees are looking for a work-life balance,” said Carol Cheung, associate director at Robert Walters.
 
Across APAC, the major challenge for women in the workplace is family pressure and commitments, said Cheung. It is difficult to talk of Asia in broad brushstrokes as there are vast differences between developed and developing countries, but the consultancy’s white paper - Empowering Women in the Workplace - makes some key recommendations for the region.
 
More than 70 per cent of those surveyed said they wanted a mentor programme, specifically requesting a mentor from senior management.
 
“We do find these programmes in the market, but those buddy systems may just mean a mentor with a few more years’ experience. Actually they want one-on-one mentoring with someone from senior management, a man or a woman,” said Chenug.
 
Dr Jamie Cheung, programme director of the Masters of Human Resources Management at Hong Kong Baptist University, is familiar with research in this field and said that in a male-dominated organisation, women benefit more than men from having a senior mentor.
 
“It gives the women more visibility, the chance to take on more challenging projects and show their talent. And these women end up getting higher salaries,” said Dr Cheung.
 
Men also experience similar benefits, but the positive impact - and remuneration difference - is greater for women. The second demand (48 per cent), of those women surveyed, was for tailor-made training programmes. The white paper also called for more flexible working options for both men and women.
 
Commenting on the report, Emily Smith, chief operating officer, APAC, at Elliott Scott Group, said it was important to look for ways to support women throughout their careers. While formal mentoring programmes have been proven to be successful, at other times in a woman’s career flexible hours to allow time to raise a family or look after elderly parents will be more beneficial, said Smith.
 
She said that in order to empower women, it’s also important to have the right support system at home - and this differs across the region. “Hong Kong and Singapore both have ready access to foreign domestic workers. And local staff can often rely on extended families for support. But in Japan, there is less support. In Japan, 70 per cent of women who take time out to have children take 10 years,” she said.
 
Smith noted that from an HR perspective there are more women in leadership roles in HR than in other sectors. Dr Cheung agrees, but said there is still a strong imbalance considering that 80 per cent of the students on her masters degree programme are women. She believes that education is one of the best steps towards empowering women in the workplace.
 
“At undergraduate level, there’s a balance [of men and women], but at postgraduate there are more females, especially in HRM. Education is the key driving force in engaging women in key managerial positions. It’s a trend you can see rising,” said Cheung.