15:51 (GMT +7) - Wednesday 22/05/2019


Women head to the top

Released at: 09:55, 08/03/2019

Women head to the top

Photo: Viet Tuan

Vietnamese women have proven more than capable in entrepreneurship and when taking on leadership positions.

by Khanh Chi

Vietnam is reported to be leading the region and exceeding the global average in the representation of women in business. While such figures are promising, there remains ample space for improvement. A Mekong Business Initiative (MBI) study showed that Vietnam’s enterprising women own 25 per cent of the country’s SMEs; a far cry from gender equality but well ahead of the Middle East, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa, not to mention South Asia, where the average ratio is just 8 per cent.

Outstanding performance

Vietnamese women have long been characterized by a high level of active participation in the workforce, entrepreneurship, and leadership. According Deloitte’s Women in the Board Room report, women hold 17.6 per cent of board seats in Vietnam, more than any other Asian country except Australia (20.1 per cent) and higher than developed countries such as the US (14.2 per cent), China (10.7 per cent), and Singapore (10.7 per cent).

An annual report from the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) released last year indicated that Vietnamese women’s entrepreneurial spirit is quite high. The rate of women participating in startups is 4 per cent higher than the rate of men, at 15.5 per cent against 11.6 per cent. “We continue to see the young generation of Vietnamese women, equipped with better education and professional development opportunities than previous generations, shine in the digital economy,” said Ms. Duong Quynh Phuong, Vice President of Openspace Ventures.

She noted that among the most decorated young female leaders is Le Hoang Uyen Vy, a graduate of Georgetown University who has founded multiple internet startups since her teenage years, served as CEO of Adayroi (Vingroup’s e-commerce arm), and currently runs home-grown venture fund ESP Capital as General Partner investing in Vietnamese tech startups. 

Another rising star is 26-year-old Linh Pham, founder and CEO of Logivan, Vietnam’s Uber equivalent for trucks. Having graduated from Cambridge University and worked at Goldman Sachs in the UK, Ms. Linh left the corporate world to pursue her true calling: resolving logistics inefficiencies in her home country through technology. Logivan won multiple international startup awards and raised close to $8 million from reputable investors within a year of launch. “These examples of young women who dare to take on a challenge and succeed have a ripple effect in inspiring other women to believe in themselves and pursue their ambitions,” Ms. Phuong said.

There’s a growing trend of many young women taking on high-level positions in various companies in Vietnam, especially in tech startups, according to Ms. Vy. There is also an increasing number of female founders of tech startups, such as Triip.me, Rudicaf, Tubudd, and Ohana. These companies not only disrupt the market with their unique business models but also create great value for consumers. That more women are taking leadership roles reflects their extraordinary capabilities and qualifications.

Women at the top

Source: Developing Country Sourcing, 2017

Holding potential

Ms. Vy commented that Vietnamese women often possess superior social skills, which makes them great leaders in the digital age. Compared to their male counterparts, women are usually more detailed oriented and more cautious in making decisions. They are strong communicators, more flexible, and willing to endure hardships. 

There is no one-size-fits-all formula for success. “In my experience, in the digital era, young women could learn digital skills to create their own competitive edge,” she said. “To be more specific, women can teach themselves, from the most basic to advanced skills. They can start by learning how to use search engines and social networks to facilitate their businesses. At a higher level, they could learn about digital marketing and analytics. When women become more tech-savvy and capable of combining digital skills with their superior social skills, they will be able to advance much further in their career.”

Women drive 70-80 per cent of all consumer purchasing through either their buying power or influence. This provides tremendous potential and advantages to women in business who understand the female consumer intimately and can capitalize on this to serve their needs effectively and lead successful businesses, according to Ms. Phuong.

In times of war and peace in Vietnam, Vietnamese women have always had incredible resourcefulness and entrepreneurial drive. They have the resilience to weather tough times as well as the flexibility and tact to navigate tricky situations. Ms. Phuong noted that this is why Vietnam has such a high number of female CEOs at major companies such as Vietjet, Vinamilk, and PNJ.

Moreover, Ms. Tuyet Vu, Principal of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) Vietnam, believes the younger generation has a lot of energy, confidence, independence, and ambition. They also seem to have a lot more clarity in what they want to do and conviction in pursuing their plans. They have also started breaking the boundaries and prejudices that exist in society. “Finding the right mentor and support network for me was one of the most important factors in achieving a successful career,” she said. “I would suggest that younger women find mentors early in their life and invest time in building a support system.” 

Nowadays, the advancement and pervasiveness of technology, the internet, and social media have led to new skills and new jobs being created that few people have been prepared for by the traditional education system. These are, for example, digital marketing, data analytics, new programming languages, and blockchain applications, to name just a few. “However, with the increased connectivity that we all experience nowadays, we also benefit from the increased abundance of resources we can learn from on the internet and in our social network, in the form of free online courses, paid courses, experts among our friends, or meeting a thought leader at a conference,” Ms. Tuyet said. “Therefore, the most important skills nowadays in my opinion are self-learning, adaptability, and social skills, combined with problem solving and critical thinking skills.”.

Tough road ahead

Despite inspiring cases of success, the share of women in leadership positions and the workforce in general remains at less than 50 per cent. A glass ceiling clearly exists for women in many careers. In Asian cultures, with strong patriarchal systems, women are considered the weaker sex and caregivers, meaning they must care for older parents, feed the family, and educate the children. Living in a traditional Asian society like Vietnam, women still face prejudices such as views they are less capable than men when it comes to technology and engineering, having to devote more time than men to housework and child rearing, and, most importantly, not being celebrated for career success but being judged by their marital status.

It’s hard to change pervasive prejudices and biases, but aspiring young Vietnamese women can rise above them by first and foremost believing in themselves. “I have made many of my life- and career-defining decisions against the odds, fear, and social pressure, in order to pursue personal growth and opportunity, and they have served me well,” Ms. Phuong said. “I would also advise young Vietnamese women to equip themselves with the best education and professional experiences possible, especially those that give them international exposure, as we are living in an increasingly flat world. To succeed in the age of Industry 4.0 means mastering hard and soft skills and being able to connect with the world. If they want to have a life partner, then I would advise them to find one that is progressive and supportive of their ambitions. Because before every major career decision, a nod or a head shake from their partner will mean completely different trajectories for their life and career. And lastly, remember that for every challenge they encounter, there is a woman who has completely killed it before.” 

In Vietnamese society, women are mainly responsible for taking care of the family and raising children, and so have little time for research and learning about new technology, according to Ms. Vy. Young women are also usually guided towards working in conventional industries such as services, hospitality, and food and beverages, and therefore have fewer opportunities to approach tech-related jobs. 

For men and women alike, however, learning about the latest technology is essential to refreshing their knowledge and keeping themselves updated. “I think young women could always take the initiative to figure out their inspiration and learn about new technology by themselves,” Ms. Vy advised.

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