Driving Gender Equality and Empowering Women Leaders in the Workplace

In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, talent scarcity has become a pressing concern across industries. Factors such as an aging population, declining fertility rates, widening wealth disparities, and the emergence of generative AI and Web3 developments contribute to the complexities of fostering gender equality.

To create an inclusive culture at work that empowers and supports women leaders, organizations must proactively address the following challenges:

Societal Pressures on Caregiving Responsibilities

In Hong Kong, almost half of working adults have caregiving responsibilities, with women bearing the majority of this burden of caregiving for both the elderly and children, including those with special needs. As such, women in the workplace are nearly three times more likely than men to state that caregiving responsibilities have prevented them from applying for promotions or new job opportunities. Additionally, one in five women in the workplace has left a job due to the difficulty of balancing work and caregiving. Employees with caregiving responsibilities also face workplace biases, including being overlooked for promotions or new positions, receiving lower pay, and encountering stigmatization (Source: HBR, 2022 (opens a new window)Family Status Discrimination in the Hong Kong Workplace, EOC (opens a new window)State of Caregiving 2021 (opens a new window)).

Traditional Gender Roles for Women in the Workplace

Many Asian cultures have deeply ingrained traditional gender expectations, which can limit women's opportunities for career advancement. Therefore, it is not surprising to learn that despite constituting 54% of the workforce, women in the workplace hold only 33% of managerial roles. Intersectional challenges further reveal varying impacts on different groups of women leaders. For example, workplace interactions involving interruptions and speaking over women occur in 32% of cases (40% for women with disabilities) (Source: McKinsey 2021 (opens a new window), Friedlaender, C. 2018 (opens a new window), Deloitte 2022 (opens a new window)).

Male-Dominated Leadership Structures

Asian countries frequently exhibit male-dominated leadership structures, with men holding the majority of top executive and managerial positions. Successful women leaders in male-dominated environments may be viewed as less likable and less likely to be hired. Even when women in the workplace gain visibility, they may not reap the same benefits as their male counterparts. This disparity creates challenges for women in the workplace seeking leadership roles and visibility at work, including having a voice, shaping one's brand, and receiving recognition and rewards.

Hybrid work environments also amplify biases that label women as "less committed," making it more difficult for them to assert themselves. The absence of female role models and mentors also hinders women's professional growth and limits their visibility within the organization.

Ageism and Women's Health Taboos

Discrimination against women in the workplace aged 50 and over exists in biased hiring practices and compensation disparities globally. According to a survey by the Equal Opportunities Commission, one-third of respondents in this age group reported experiencing age discrimination in the workplace within the past five years.

Menopause, a natural phase in women's lives, often faces stigma in the workplace, hindering career progression and impacting mental health. The age range when menopausal symptoms typically occur, in the 40s and 50s, coincides with women taking on leadership roles. Workplace accommodations for the needs of women leaders during menopause are frequently lacking, contributing to early retirement and challenges such as stress, anxiety, and isolation.

To drive meaningful change, organizations should consider the following strategies:

Raising Awareness about Gender equality

Ensuring an equitable distribution of tasks and equal opportunities for critical work projects, while using inclusive language, creates a welcoming and inclusive culture at work for all employees.

Addressing Workplace Stigma with Training

Nearly one-third of employees feel that menopause is treated negatively in their workplace, and six out of ten individuals report witnessing menopause being mocked or ridiculed. Furthermore, among those who take time off work due to menopausal symptoms, a substantial 70% do not feel comfortable disclosing the reasons to their employers. These attitudes contribute to a culture of discomfort and silence surrounding menopause. Therefore, training managers on menopause, caregiving, and biases can enhance their understanding and support for team members, fostering a culture of acceptance and support.

Re-examining Leadership Definitions

Valuing the unique skills and experiences that women leaders bring allows organizations to redefine leadership qualities and embrace diverse perspectives. Broadening access to critical assignments, expanding networking opportunities with senior leaders, and implementing supportive policies and resources for flexible work arrangements can further empower female employees.

This can be accomplished through mentorship programs, networking events, and prioritizing the development of accommodating policies, facilities, and resources specifically designed for female employees.

Recognizing DEI programs and Well-being Initiatives

Women leaders exhibit a higher level of involvement in DEI programs and well-being initiatives compared to their male counterparts. They are twice as likely to dedicate their time to these efforts, showcasing their commitment to fostering an inclusive culture at work. Surprisingly, only 25% of organizations provide formal recognition to those engaged in this important work, despite the evident benefits such as improved retention and workplace satisfaction.

Acknowledging and appreciating the contributions of women leaders and individuals engaged in DEI programs and well-being initiatives is crucial for cultivating an inclusive culture at work. Implementing performance indicators focused on DEI programs can drive progress and ensure gender equality remains a top priority.

Recognizing the challenges of the macro environment and understanding the specific hurdles faced by women in the workplace is vital in creating an inclusive culture at work that nurtures and supports female talent. Organizations that increasingly recognize prioritizing gender equality not only results with a competitive advantage but also aligns with good governance practices and enhances Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting. By prioritizing DEI, organizations in Asia can create a more inclusive culture at work that benefits both employees and the overall success of the organization.

For more information, please visit our People Solutions (opens a new window) page or contact us at LocktonPeopleSolutions.HK@lockton.com (opens a new window).