Gender Imbalance Holds Back APAC Tech Sector From Progressing

April 10, 20177:52 am826 views

International Women’s Day 2017 was marked with numerous high profile displays of unity and solidarity around the world. Supporters of equal rights rallied together in person and online to call for urgent universal commitment to address and resolve outdated issues of gender imbalance. And, of course, the APAC region stood no exception.

Unlike other regions, APAC still has some way to go in terms of achieving full equality across the board. Indeed, International Women’s Day 2017 provided a stark reminder about the age-old unjust practices now exerting their impact on all of us. This is important because the inherent anachronistic roots of gender imbalance, can lead casual observers to assume that it’s something of an ‘older’ problem – perhaps destined for extinction either way.

The reality, though, is that while things are slowly improving, the issue of gender inequality continues to remain an area of concern for now. In fact, in a recent article co-written by representatives of Microsoft and global advertising agency TBWA, published on the international marketing magazine The Drum argues that APAC tech industries – a cutting-edge sector at the forefront of global development show clear evidence of gender imbalanced workplaces.

In it, the authors state the case for greater empowerment of women in the tech industries in APAC, thus highlighting the ‘sorry state of affairs’ that have led many organisations in the region to report, on facing a ‘talent gap’ despite the region’s unprecedented economic growth over the past three decades.

The answer, they agree, may lie in Asia’s women – but there’s a problem:

‘As Asia becomes more affluent, women’s education and health has improved. Women are entering the labour force in larger numbers, but, in many countries, women’s dropout rates in middle management are high. Despite organisations investing in programmes and training, to address diversity and inclusion, gaps in female representation persists, especially at the top levels of the organisational hierarchy. This is true even of the most developed countries in Asia, including Japan, Korea and Singapore.’

The article is far from the countless studies that show and prove, how increased diversity in the workplace is directly linked to improved performance and profitability – and yet hundreds of relatively nascent tech companies around the globe are still failing to reap potential rewards of more representative gender balance. The Financial Times, for example, noted in 2016 that, despite the rapid growth in size and importance of the sector to global economies, women occupy just 17 percent of tech jobs in the UK.

Also, where tech companies have taken steps to address gender imbalance in terms of overall workforce figures, credible research (spearheaded by International recruitment organisations such as Glassdoor) show that wage inequality still persists in almost all key tech roles: In some cases, women earn up to 26 percent less than their male counterparts for the same work.

In many regions, APAC included – this unappealing scenario is continuing to fuel an ‘inequality trap’ that is actually widening in terms of opportunities and outcomes.

APAC-focused current affairs magazine The Diplomat claimed last year that rising inequality disproportionately affects women in Asian countries and ‘threatens to derail, from the start, successful implementation of the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the Asia-Pacific region’.

See: Gender imbalance: Are females missing out on Singapore’s tech revolution?

Inequality of opportunity is a particular threat to the industrial wellbeing of several APAC countries, where a potential goldmine of emerging female talent remains relatively overlooked, despite the perceived talent gap across a broad range of STEM fields.

With the worldwide importance of tech industry growing rapidly year on year – and particularly in terms of its value to key APAC tech economies, this scenario could well lead to a serious loss of ground if left unaddressed. Indeed, this very threat was highlighted last year by Channel NewsAsia’s report on Singaporean women excessively challenging route to get to the top of the industry.

A similar 2015 feature on the CNBC news network also highlighted the damage, this situation might be doing, in which is otherwise an exceptionally fertile ground for startup companies: admirable government support in several APAC nations for tech industry entrepreneurialism remains stymied by figures that show a stubborn unwillingness to improve in terms of overall gender balance.

The perceived lack of sufficient high-calibre IT professionals to meet demand fuelled by rapid growth is inherently solvable by the female population, says Clair Deevy, a Singapore-based former Citizenship Lead at Microsoft Asia Pacific, and now Head of Economic Growth Initiatives APAC at Facebook. Deevy is an ambassador for the Girls2Pioneers campaign led by the Singapore Committee for UN Women.

Since 2014, the programme has been pioneering initiatives to encourage young women pursue careers in various STEM sectors (and tech in particular) from a younger age. Underlining the value of careers in the tech industry to women at a younger age is seen, as a key to solve the gender imbalance issue, which is why it is also being addressed through organisation-specific initiatives, such as Microsoft’s own DigiGirlz pages (part of its wider YouthSpark Hub).

In their International Women’s Day piece for The Drum, Tuminez and Brett echoed citing, “sticky cultural factors” and “deeply entrenched gender stereotypes, cultural norms and values” for hampering the advancement of women to leadership positions in Asia. For them, it is “vital that an open and transparent discussion of these norms take place in, and across organisations.”

But talk alone, is not enough:

‘Senior leaders and managers must invest resources and effort to deliberately cultivate, reward, and retain female talent. Progress must be measured. This is not a good-doing project, but an actual strategic business imperative. Leadership teams who develop an adept understanding of how their teams work – at their most local level – will be better equipped to remove unconscious bias, changing attitudes, and set their female talent on the pathway to the top.’

Author credits:

Morgan Franklin is a freelance writer based in the north of England. International affairs and business are of particular interest to him, whose career has taken remarkable strides in journalism, PR, advertising and marketing; though writing remains his passion. This makes him work for various publications online and off. Majority of his work covers various topics on ethics (to include business ethics) and environmentalism, which have been the key focus areas of his extensive efforts in the recent times. During his rare free time, Morgan likes to spend time with his family, go on hiking and adventure trails to new lands, near and far.

Also read: Sexism and Gender-Discrimination Continue to Hold Back Women in the Workplace

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