Recent decades have seen a significant rise in the number of women in the workplace. According to a 2017 Pew Research report, women now account for over 40% of the labour force in many countries including the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia.
But true gender equality remains elusive. The United Nations recently reported that women still participate less in the job market, and are more likely to have vulnerable employment.
Improving workplace gender equality is a key goal of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It highlights a 2018 International Monetary Fund study, which showed that having more women in the workplace boosts productivity and economic growth.
So, what advice do women have for those with their sights set on a great career? What are the key trends and challenges? In recognition of International Women’s Day, here’s a rundown of what Robert Half’s own Asia Pacific female leaders had to say.
- Megan Alexander, General Manager, New Zealand
- Nicole Gorton, Director of Strategic Accounts, Asia Pacific
- Noriko Komai, Senior Division Director of Robert Half Technology, Japan
- Elaine Lam, Associate Director of Robert Half Finance & Accounting, Hong Kong
- Melissa Lau, Associate Director of Technology and Financial Services Operations, Hong Kong
- Fanny Tang, Managing Director of Robert Half Beijing, China
- Fen Teo, Associate Director of Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Financial Services Group, Singapore
- Amanda Woodforde, Vice President of OfficeTeam, Australia
What are the best examples of positive change in the workplace that you have noticed in the past five years?
More flexible workplaces, and the push for better work-life balance and employee wellness are allowing working mothers to fulfil both parental and work responsibilities – including taking on leading roles. According to Teo, Robert Half is observing a shift in Singapore towards more women assuming senior leadership positions at C-suite and board level as a result.
Gorton says there is increasing awareness and action around women in the workplace. “Mutual respect and support allow for greater engagement and performance, and companies are reviewing their sourcing methodologies to increase workplace diversity.”
Have you noticed any new incentives in job descriptions to attract women to roles?
Increased parental leave, flexible hours and remote working are just some of the rewards that Gorton has seen. Another less visible but important incentive is setting up a ‘back to work’ policy for returning mothers who need further time and/or emotional support whilst their child settles into their new environment.
Lau commented, “Some companies in Hong Kong also put in the effort to hire back female employees who left the workforce due to family commitments.”
How can women in the workplace make their mark?
It was a consensus amongst Robert Half’s female leaders that to really excel, you will need to push yourself out of your comfort zone. That includes feeling comfortable about being open and assertive, because transparency of thought allows for more clearly defined agendas and objectives.
“Remember that you are in control, so keep a positive mindset and think about what you can do differently to improve yourself,” advised Alexander.
How do you expect the workplace to change over the next five years to encourage more women into work?
For Woodforde, further advancements in technology and our ability to be connected at all times will create greater opportunity for women to advance their careers on a part-time or flexible basis.
“Stay-at-home mums will be able to return to work sooner, which can help to address the talent shortage,” shared Teo who is seeing such trends in Singapore. Similarly, in Hong Kong, Lam believes more companies will offer flexible working hours and increased annual leave programs to attract more women back to the workforce.
Alexander reflected: “Trends around flexibility and diversity should improve as new generations come into management and replace previous ways of thinking. The next phase will be to ensure diversity is adopted and holistically implemented across an organisation.”
“I think more companies will try to increase their flexibility to attract more women in the workplace,” says Komai. “In Japan, we are seeing some companies offer childcare services as an extra incentive, and we expect more candidates to request this.”
Have you noticed a trend towards a more diverse recruitment policy from hiring managers?
“Many companies that we are working with are adopting ratio or quota policies, and become far more diverse in their hiring of minority groups,” says Gorton. “Having a strategy that is measurable, and policies to match, is imperative.”
“We have seen more companies request to include more female candidates during the interviewing/screening process – a positive shift towards driving diversity,” commented Komai.
Alexander believes that clients are recognising the benefits of women in the workplace and diverse teams. “We definitely see this in Auckland, which has a real mix of cultures.”
What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?
Alexander: “Back yourself, don’t limit yourself.”
Teo: “Take charge of your career, because nobody else will!”
Gorton: “Don’t be a bystander, be an upstander. This applies anywhere in life, but in the workplace it’s especially important to speak up when you see a wrong – even if you are not directly involved.”
Tang: “You are able to excel if you are able to push yourself out of your comfort zone.”
Lau: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
At Robert Half, we encourage all professionals to strive for happiness in the workplace. While happiness at work means different things to different groups of people, the advice offered by our Asia Pacific leaders is aimed towards creating an appreciative, fair and respectful workplace that takes pride in its employees.
In 2019, Robert Half was selected for the 2019 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI) for its commitment to advancing women’s equality and transparency in gender reporting, the Forbes’ 2019 Best Employers for Diversity in recognition of its diversity efforts, and is a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) to advance gender equality.