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More focus needed on gender equality in the workplace

Released at: 08:05, 01/08/2018

More focus needed on gender equality in the workplace

Madam Ha Thu Thanh, Deloitte Vietnam Chairperson (Photo: Deloitte Vietnam)

Ms. Ha Thu Thanh, Chairwoman of the Vietnam Business Coalition for Women's Empowerment (VBCWE) and of Deloitte Vietnam, shares her views on gender equality in the workplace with VET.

by Linh Chi

How would you assess the interest in Vietnam’s private sector and investors about gender equality in the workplace? What are the differences between Vietnamese and foreign businesses operating in the country in this regard?

Gender equality is an important goal not only in Vietnam but also in many countries around the world and is an important criterion in assessing the development of a society and the sustainability of an economy. Vietnamese businesses have become increasingly interested in and been investing more in gender equality in the workplace over recent years. According to a recent report from the General Statistics Office, women accounted for 48.1 per cent of the country’s workforce in 2017. The percentage of women in top management positions is relatively high, at 28 per cent compared to the global average of 19 per cent.

In Vietnam, more and more women are making remarkable achievements in the field of economics as well as in other fields. The proportion of women in the Politburo is increasing, and for the first time a woman is Chair of the National Assembly, since March 31, 2016. With 26.8 per cent of delegates in the National Assembly being women, Vietnam is among the countries in the region and the world with the highest ratio of women in their parliament, at second in ASEAN and 43rd out of 143 countries worldwide.

There are still, however, many barriers to gender equality in the workplace in Vietnam. The proportion of women involved in management and leadership has increased but is still low in general and compared with the increase in the number of female workers in particular. In some organizations a pay gap still exists between men and women doing the same job, there are fewer opportunities for women to access high-income jobs than for men, and women are also more vulnerable when businesses need to cut down their workforce. This is also one of the differences between Vietnamese companies and foreign enterprises operating in Vietnam. Many foreign enterprises in Vietnam are more likely to employ female workers, as women are believed to be more focused and productive than men.

What gender inequality-related issues do you think many businesses are now facing, in recruitment, working conditions, promotion opportunities, maternity policies, pensions, and retirement, etc.?

One of the most common and challenging issues for Vietnam is to eliminate the social norm of male superiority, whereby women must be the primary caregiver for their children and families. Due to this perception, many businesses still hesitate to recruit female workers, because they will eventually take maternity leave or time off to care for sick children, etc.

Recent studies confirm there is gender inequality and discrimination against women in the workplace. For example, 83 per cent of job advertisements prioritize male candidates. The report from the General Statistics Office shows that the proportion of women declines in higher positions, and men are paid 11 per cent more than women doing the same job.

According to the Labor Code, as specified in Circular No. 26/2013/TT-BLDTBXH, there are 38 types of jobs that women are not allowed to participate in due to them being considered dangerous and harmful to reproductive health. The purpose of this regulation is to protect women’s health. However, some of the jobs listed are still a source of income for many women. The Labor Code also states that the retirement age for women is five years younger than for men, and therefore women’s pensions are lower than men’s. These regulations may negatively impact on the sustainable development of enterprises in particular and of the economy in general.

What values do you think gender equality in the workplace can bring to enterprises? How does it directly affect productivity and the effectiveness of an enterprise? What has been the impact at Deloitte?

Vietnamese businesses need to be fully aware of the impact of gender equality on the company’s business performance and sustainable development. The leader’s mindset plays a key role in this, as the foundation for building a better human resources policy and enabling equal development for both men and women. With equality in career opportunities and promotion, businesses will be able to create a sustainable corporate culture, increase employee satisfaction, and attract and retain talent. As a result, employees will contribute more to the development of the company, which helps increase productivity and business efficiency. Moreover, gender equality policies will also contribute to image enhancement and brand building - one of the most important intangible assets of a business.

At Deloitte, gender equality policies have been applied and maintained for many years. In a working environment where nearly 60 per cent of employees are women and they hold nearly 40 per cent of senior management positions, including Deputy General Director, there is no difference between men and women in access to opportunities for learning, training, promotions, or any of the company’s benefits. It is also an important criterion that helped Deloitte Vietnam be listed in the “Top 100 Vietnam Best Places to Work” by Alphabe and Nielsen for the past five years and “Top 10 Most Sustainable Businesses in Vietnam” for two consecutive years, in 2016 and 2017, in a program implemented by the Vietnam Business Council for Sustainable Development (VBCSD - VCCI) and the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for enterprises when implementing gender equality policies?

Leadership is the key to implementing effective gender equality policies and this is also the greatest challenge for Vietnamese businesses at the moment. Awareness about gender equality in the workplace in Vietnam is still very low. Leaders at some enterprises still hold a belief that gender equality means having a perfectly balanced workforce (50 per cent male - 50 per cent female), or having preferential policies for women. They should understand that gender equality ensures benefits for both genders.

We also lack the tools to accurately measure and evaluate gender equality at enterprises, based on which we could provide a rational and efficient roadmap.

Do you have any initiatives or suggestions for promoting awareness and implementing gender equality in the workplace?

In order to promote an enterprise’s awareness about workplace gender equality, the business firstly needs to reconsider and re-evaluate their human resources policies in order to build their gender equality goals, strategies, and actions. In particular, they should focus on human development strategies, including diversifying the workforce, providing equal opportunities for both men and women in recruitment, employment and promotion, providing training programs for women to develop into key positions, and providing training on gender equality for employees in the company to help them understand clearly the definition and importance of gender equality in the workplace. They should also incorporate a gender equality strategy into their business strategy.

Businesses can also apply international standardized tools to measure gender equality in the workplace, such as the EDGE (Economics Dividends for Gender Equality) - one of the most prestigious and valuable certifications on gender equality in the world. At the same time, a proper communications plan for society should be created to promote gender equality in the workplace.

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