What Asia’s top firms are doing to take care of the needs of their female executives

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The gender gap in top management positions in firms is more pronounced in Asia than it is in the United States and in Europe. An April 2018 study by McKinsey & Co showed that only one in four positions in the managerial level or higher is occupied by women.

Not-for-Profit organization Catalyst, which serves an advisory function to corporations regarding inclusion and diversity, says that in the US and in Europe, that number is one in three.

The World Economic Forum also shows that Asia is behind other regions in reaching gender parity. The WEF’s Gender Gap index shows that East and South Asia, as well as the Pacific, are behind North America and Western Europe in this aspect.

Therefore, many Asian firms have strived to keep up, not only to attract more female talent to its top tiers but also to keep the women executives they already have. Over 75 percent of big corporations all over the world are actively looking for more women for top management positions, and are doing so by being more flexible and tailoring more packages to women’s need.

Some companies have found a measure of success in attracting and keeping female talent through the following methods:

  1. DBS Group took away the stigma of family leave. Today Online reports that Eng-Kwok Seat Moey, who had been with POSBank when it was acquired by DBS, had been allowed by the latter to go on leave without pay for five years in all in order for her to raise her children while her husband was assigned to work in North America.

Eng-Kwok’s manager had been Eric Ang, then head of capital markets, who encouraged her to take a leave of absence rather than resign. Almost 20 years later, nearly a decade after returning from her leave, she ended up as Mr. Ang’s deputy, and eventually his successor as head of the bank’s capital-markets division.

In turn, she has also ensured that her colleagues are able to take personal time off, rather than seeing no recourse but to resign. This attitude is prevalent throughout DBS. Piyush Gupta, the bank’s CEO, says, “If you don’t make it a stigma, then it’s not a stigma and women come back to work.”

Sabbatical leave is an option given by the bank, with employees able to take as much as a year off in unpaid leave. And should any employee need more time, they are given consideration.

The results speak for themselves. By June of this year, 2 out of 5 senior vice president positions and higher are occupied by women.

2. Royal Bank of Canada allows for more flexibility for taking time off. Hong Paterson, country head of RBC in Singapore says, “You don’t feel like you have to leave your family at home. If they want you, they’ll figure it out.”

Ms. Paterson, a single mother, took weekends and holidays off to go surfing with her daughter before her daughter went off to college, plus enjoyed flexible working hours. “We spent quite a bit of time in Bali, surfing. It’s something that she just really loves…. And that probably helps in terms of building that relationship with her.”

3. Procter & Gamble does not adhere to gender stereotypes. The multinational company considers both genders when it comes to opportunities for promotions, even if it includes traveling and relocating to different countries. Balaka Niyazee, now the Vice President of Procter & Gamble Korea, started out as a sales agent in India.

She has since worked for P&G in Ireland and Singapore, as well as India and South Korea. Her one request, which the company gladly granted, was for a year’s notice before possible relocation so that her husband’s employment duties would be in sync with hers. “It’s really hard for a company to give you six months of lead time because everything can change. But the way the company handled that was to tell me about all the possibilities even if they weren’t confirmed, and I didn’t hold them accountable if those things didn’t happen.
Women want to make it happen and they want to have a career. The last thing we should do is assume they aren’t going to be able to be flexible,” Ms. Niyazee said.

4. Singtel has excellent role models for younger women executives. Former engineer, now senior director, Hoo Shu Yee has several role models to look up to in the largest woman-led Asian company, Singapore Telecommunications. It’s eleven-strong top management team has not one, not two, not three but four women, including Chief Executive Officer Chua Sock Koong and Chief Financial Officer Lim Cheng Cheng.

Ms. Hoo says, “We know we can do it too if they can. That knowledge is very empowering. I’ve never felt that there was a limit to how far I could go.”

4. The Aditya Birla group offers flexibility in order for women to prioritise. Pinky Mehta, former CFO and now head of the finance charge at Aditya Birla Capital, found great support from her manager after she gave birth.

“My boss asked me initially to come to work for just two hours, then three hours and gradually increased it to a full shift. You need ample support so that there’s no guilt.”

There were no maternity benefits when she gave birth in 1995. And now, after the six-month mandatory maternity leave in India, women are allowed to work from home or from a satellite office. Or, they are given a flexible working schedule just like Ms. Mehta once was. Furthermore, mothers of small children are allowed to bring them, as well as a caregiver, when they travel for work.

Read related: Asia sees rise in number of women in management posts