Is­sue of gen­der in work­place hot­ting up

While Thai­land fares rel­a­tively well when it comes to gen­der equal­ity, much work re­mains to be done to close the gap. By Je­sus Al­co­cer

Bangkok Post - - BUSINESS -

Gen­der in the work­place re­mains a red­hot is­sue as the num­ber of women in se­nior man­age­rial po­si­tions slowly in­creases and dis­cus­sions on the role of bi­ol­ogy in the gen­der gap take cen­tre stage. Judy Olian, dean of the UCLA An­der­son School of Man­age­ment and mem­ber of the ad­vi­sory board of Cat­a­lyst, a lead­ing think tank ad­vo­cat­ing for women in the work­place, dis­cussed what her in­sti­tu­tion and the in­dus­try in gen­eral are do­ing to ad­dress the gen­der gap in the work­place.

In 2000, only two of the For­tune 500 CEOs were women, down one from the year be­fore. Back then women ac­counted for 11.7% of the board of di­rec­tors of these com­pa­nies, said Ms Olian. To­day there are 32 fe­male CEOs in the For­tune 500, ac­count­ing for 6.4% of the to­tal, up from 21 in 2016.

“We have seen some im­prove­ments for women in the work­place, but it has not been as much as we had hoped,” she said.

The gap is not lim­ited to top po­si­tions. Ac­cord­ing to Cat­a­lyst, women, on av­er­age, earn 77% of what men earn, and women’s labour par­tic­i­pa­tion rate de­creased from 52.4 % to 49.6% be­tween 1995 and 2015.

Thai­land fares rel­a­tively well when it comes to gen­der equal­ity, but it’s on a down­ward trend. The coun­try ranked 71 out of 144 coun­tries in the 2016 World Eco­nomic Fo­rum’s Global Gen­der Gap re­port — a marked drop from 40th place in 2006.

But Thai­land per­forms par­tic­u­larly well when it comes to eco­nomic in­clu­sion. For ex­am­ple, it has more fe­male (56%) than male pro­fes­sional and tech­ni­cal work­ers. There are fe­males in top man­age­ment po­si­tions in 64.8% of com­pa­nies, and 64.4% of firms are at least par­tially owned by women. Women also con­sti­tute the largest pro­por­tion of stu­dents (60%) in ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions.

Nev­er­the­less, the law does not man­date equal pay for equal work. Thai woman earned 77% as much as their male coun­ter­parts for sim­i­lar work. In terms of in­come, Thai women made 78% of what males re­ceive (13,778 vs 17,749 in ad­justed US dol­lar), and have a markedly lower labour force par­tic­i­pa­tion rate (70% vs 86%).

The in­come gap is markedly higher than in coun­tries like Ice­land, where women’s wages are 95% of what a man would re­ceive for a sim­i­lar job, and where the law dic­tates equal pay.

While the coun­try per­forms bet­ter on this met­ric than the Philip­pines, Malaysia and In­done­sia, it still lags be­hind some of its re­gional com­peti­tors. In Viet­nam, for ex­am­ple, women’s com­pen­sa­tion is 92% that of men’s for sim­i­lar jobs. In Sin­ga­pore, where, like in Thai­land, pro­vid­ing dif­fer­ent com­pen­sa­tion is le­gal, the num­ber is close to 81%.

Ms Olian’s re­search has tried to grap­ple with is­sues of gen­der in­equal­ity and sug­gests the so­lu­tion might lie in un­der­stand­ing the de­ci­sion-mak­ing driv­ers. The fac­tors that com­pel, for ex­am­ple, a man­ager to hire a male ap­pli­cant over a fe­male ap­pli­cant with sim­i­lar qual­i­fi­ca­tions, or the fac­tors that lead fe­males to choose less fi­nan­cially lu­cra­tive ca­reers than males with sim­i­lar tal­ents and pro­cliv­i­ties, might prove key.

Ms Olian said a sub­stan­tial part of the struc­ture that re­sults in gen­der in­equal­ity is the re­sult of un­con­scious bi­ases. Choos­ing a less qual­i­fied ap­pli­cant just be­cause they are male is a less than op­ti­mal de­ci­sion that is driven by un­con­scious prej­u­dices.

Us­ing less favourable de­scrip­tions to eval­u­ate fe­male ap­pli­cants is also com­mon, said Ms Olian. For ex­am­ple, a ven­ture cap­i­tal firm which may de­scribe a man as am­bi­tious and as­sertive will de­scribe a woman with iden­ti­cal at­ti­tudes as cold and ag­gres­sive, she said.

The im­pact of sub­jec­tive cor­po­rate eval­u­a­tions on women’s ad­vance­ment has come un­der in­tense aca­demic scru­tiny. Be­havioural econ­o­mist Paola Cec­chi-Dimeglio ar­gues in a forth­com­ing book, co-au­thored by Columbia ad­junct fac­ulty as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor Kim Kle­man, that fe­males are 40% more likely to re­ceive “crit­i­cal sub­jec­tive feed­back,” in­stead of pos­i­tive or ob­jec­tive feed­back.

Like Ms Olina, Ms Cec­chi-Dimeglio finds that in these eval­u­a­tions, male ac­tions or be­haviours that are worded in a pos­i­tive frame may be cast in a more crit­i­cal tone when the worker be­ing eval­u­ated is a woman. For ex­am­ple, re­views as­sess­ing shy fe­males may say they need more self con­fi­dence, while re­views as­sess­ing equally shy males may say they need to de­velop their abil­ity to work with peo­ple, she said.

Some­times sit­u­a­tions as com­mon as a de­layed re­sponse are in­ter­preted in rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent lights. A woman with a de­layed re­sponse would be di­ag­nosed with “anal­y­sis paral­y­sis”, while an equally slow-mov­ing male col­league would be de­scribed as thought­ful.

Many com­pa­nies and in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion (in­clud­ing UCLA) are tak­ing steps to start elim­i­nat­ing these bi­ases, like hir­ing con­sul­tants who will call out man­agers on word changes like the ones de­scribed above dur­ing the de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cesses.

The dis­ad­van­tages of women in the work­place, how­ever, can­not be solved by nudg­ing man­agers to elim­i­nate bi­ases in hir­ing. The gen­der gap is a so­cial phe­nom­e­non that re­quires a so­ci­etal shift to be solved, said Ms Olian. “There is no quick and easy so­lu­tion,” she said.

While bridging the gen­der gap may be costly, com­pa­nies usu­ally cash in on the re­sult­ing gen­der di­verse work­force. For ex­am­ple, a 2014 study con­ducted by Gallup on over 800 busi­ness units from two com­pa­nies in re­tail and hos­pi­tal­ity found that gen­der di­verse units in re­tail com­pa­nies had 14% higher rev­enue than other units. In hos­pi­tal­ity com­pa­nies, gen­der di­verse units had 19% higher quar­terly net prof­its than their less di­verse coun­ter­parts.

Gen­der di­verse units, Gallup hy­pothe­ses, ben­e­fit from a broader ar­ray of view­points and mar­ket in­sights and are able to “serve an in­creas­ingly di­verse con­sumer base”.

‘‘ The gen­der gap is a so­cial phe­nom­e­non that re­quires a so­ci­etal shift to be solved. JUDY OLIAN Dean of the UCLA An­der­son School of Man­age­ment

Ms Olian’s re­search has at­tempted to tackle is­sues of gen­der in­equal­ity at the work­place. She be­lieves that the so­lu­tion might lie in un­der­stand­ing busi­nesses’ de­ci­sion­mak­ing driv­ers.

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