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Moving Toward Gender Diversity in Southeast Asia

Moving Toward Gender Diversity in Southeast Asia

The Moving Towards Gender Diversity in Southeast Asia report from Boston Consulting Group analyses interviews with CEOs and top executives from over 25 of the most prominent companies in Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia to understand their perspectives on diversity, the obstacles they have faced, and the effectiveness of activities they have launched to increase gender diversity across all levels of their organisations.

In Singapore and Malaysia, the report includes surveys of approximately 1,600 employees in 14 companies while in Vietnam, the report includes an open survey with approximately 500 respondents. Participating companies spanned financial services, energy, public sector, technology, media and telecommunications and general industry organisations.

Executives and employees named key obstacles for increasing gender diversity in their organisations. They identified which of 39 discrete diversity interventions (interventions related to advancement, leadership, culture, and retention) presently exist within their organisations, and of those, which are most and least effective, and which should be prioritised immediately.


  • Discussions about gender diversity are still very much in the early stages across most of Southeast Asia. Engagement levels vary significantly across countries, company types, and industries. But overall progress has generally been organic with most companies choosing to institutionalise a limited number of interventions—typically those required by law or perceived as “market practice.” Some governments, blue chip local companies, and MNCs have been more active, but there has been little research as to which measures are the most valued by female employees.
  • Southeast Asia has come a long way with women’s participation in the workforce, however, progress has been slow. With the exception of Vietnam, the lack of progress is even starker at senior levels. While most governments in the region have taken the lead in increasing gender diversity at senior levels by introducing hard targets, private sector companies have been slow to follow.
  • In Indonesia, despite 50% of university graduates being women, the female share of senior management roles is just 23% and the female share of CEO/board-level roles is just 6%. However, the report finds that women in more traditional countries like Indonesia and Malaysia are just as keen to advance their careers as women in more liberal Singapore.
  • With limited resources available, companies must focus on the most effective measures that provide the highest return. The two key areas to focus on—retention and advancement—go hand in hand. The research shows that gender diversity is most positively affected by interventions that actually change the way people work and interact, rather than by broad statements and policies. Supporting women at moments of truth, building an environment where women feel supported, and developing role models are key.
  • Globalisation, economy shifts, and the presence of women trailblazers are changing the cultural and demographic status quo. Governments are acting on gender diversity and companies should follow. Companies need to take a businesslike approach, think about what gives the largest return on investment, and follow through with their gender diversity policies.


  • At a glance
    • A slow push to close the gender gap
    • Challenging assumptions on gender diversity
    • It’s time to act on gender diversity
  • Methodology
  • A slow push to close the gender gap
  • Four beliefs the hinder gender diversity
    • Belief #1: The current state of gender balance is a natural equilibrium, as women naturally give up their careers for family
    • Belief #2: We have bigger and more urgent priorities, specifically growth, transformation, and internationalisation
    • Belief #3: Promoting gender diversity comes at the expense of meritocracy
    • Belief #4: Focusing on gender will come at the expense of wider inclusion (race, ethnicity, age, and others) which is also important
  • Men and women: Two points of view
  • Challenging assumptions on gender diversity
  • Focus on the most effective measures
    • Support women at the moments of truth
    • Make your role models visible
    • Build an environment where women feel included
  • How good are your existing initiatives?
    • Supporting career advancement
    • Bias reduction training
    • Transparency and leadership’s commitment to gender diversity
  • Some interventions will not move the needle
  • Conclusion: It’s time to act on gender diversity
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