Vietnam a rare bright spot for women as men continue to rule corporate Asia

By Vi Vu   June 17, 2017 | 05:00 am PT
Vietnam a rare bright spot for women as men continue to rule corporate Asia
A woman is shown standing among men in Hong Kong in a file photo. A new study has found that gender diversity is among the worst in Asia's company boardrooms. Photo by Reuters/Paul Yeung
Seats at the table: A new study by Deloitte has found that gender diversity in Asian boardrooms is very low.

Vietnam and Malaysia outshine developed economies in Asia, where gender diversity in company boardrooms has been found to be among the lowest in the world despite recent progress.

Deloitte LLP, looking into 7,000 companies in 64 economies, has found that women account for only 7.8 percent of board directors in Asia. That is a little higher than in Latin and South America, but is far below Europe’s 22.6 percent — the highest ratio that should also be higher.

As expected, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan rank among the regional bottom.

Vietnam performs much better: its women make up 17.6 percent of boards. In Malaysia, that is 13.7 percent and for Singapore, 10.2 percent.

Deloitte has pointed out that in Vietnam, there are no gender quotas for women on boards. The country aims to bring the ratio of female entrepreneurs to 35 percent by 2020, it adds.

Ha Thi Thu Thanh, chairwoman of Deloitte Vietnam, said in a statement that with 50 percent of the population being women and the percentage of women-owned enterprises reaching 30 percent in 2015, “Vietnam is seeing a growing number of women serving on boards.”

“Having female board members helps broaden company perspectives with more creative ideas and decisions for their sustainable development,” she said.

“In fact, over the past 25 years, after the Law on Enterprise came into effect, businesses led by women have been seen to grow steadily and sustainably in Vietnam. We are certainly on our way to supporting our women to win,” Thanh said.

Studies show more diverse boards are generally associated with making better decisions and profits for their companies, Bloomberg quoted Marleen Dieleman, an associate professor of strategy and policy at the National University of Singapore, as saying.

“You need to have sufficient variety, in terms of viewpoints, experience etc., at the board level to successfully deal with the complexity of your environment,” Dieleman told Bloomberg.

While Deloitte’s study suggests a somewhat favorable environment for Vietnamese women, it should be noted that stark gender inequality still exists in the country and around the world.

Advocacy group Oxfam has said in a report in March that governments and businesses should look at ways to improve the quality and security of women's economic opportunities, ensuring their fair income, secure contracts and safe working conditions.

In the report, entitled "An economy that works for women,” Oxfam interviewed women in garment factories in Vietnam and Myanmar, who work 12 hours a day, sometimes 18 hours and through the night, six days a week. Still, they are not earning enough to sustain themselves and their families, the report said.

Earlier, in a separate report in February, Oxfam pointed out that in the local media, female leaders are more likely to be associated with family and appearance.

Many news reports, it said, keep reinforcing this stereotypical ideal of female leaders: they have to be able to handle their family roles as traditional women, and in the workplace as modern women.

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