12 November 2020 | News/Stories

Despite challenges, BCGE bolsters efforts to advance Workplace Gender Equality in Myanmar

In 2017, seven leading companies in Myanmar—City Mart Holding Limited, KBZ Bank, KBZ MS, AYA Bank, FMI Company Limited, Parami Energy Group of Companies and Shwe Taung Group—founded the Business Coalition for Gender Equality (BCGE) through the support of Investing in Women.

BCGE now has 21 member companies. It is one of the organisations working under the Myanmar National Women Committee led by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

In an interview with Women Icons Network, BCGE Country Director, Kyawt Kay Thi Win, discussed the coalition’s efforts to advance WGE in Myanmar.

What has been the response to the initiatives of BCGE so far?

Myanmar is a country rich with 135 diverse ethnic groups spread across seven states and regions. While Myanmar has seen gender equality initiatives and programs for a long time, Workplace Gender Equality is quite a new topic and so it does pose some challenges for BCGE. Not very different from the global perspective, there is a widely held belief that gender equality is a woman’s issue and something that NGOs and the government need to deal with.  This led us to develop some unique approaches and strategies.

BCGE continues to face reactions like “we already have Workplace Gender Equality at work because we have 70% of women in our company”; “we are too busy to for Workplace Gender Equality”; “how do you define if we are doing Workplace Gender Equality”; and “what is the relation between workplace gender equality and flexible work arrangements”; etc.

Despite these hurdles, BCGE has been successful in getting some of the members and organisations to amend their policies around non-discrimination and anti-harassment. Further, businesses have shown interest around areas like unconscious bias during the recruitment process, flexi work arrangements, inclusive workplaces and leadership. There is a growing acceptability of BCGE as the Workplace Gender Equality advisor. The Covid-19 pandemic though has brought about challenges, as it has taken a toll on many businesses.

Is there engagement of women employees in the program or is it completely employer-led?

Though BCGE was founded by businesses, women are central to the entire initiative. Their participation is one of the key pillars of BCGE.  Some of the instances of engaging women include participating in an employee survey for EDGE Certification; joining in public talks, events and panels; contributing to campaigns; contributing to business case studies; joining interviews; discussing in HR club, etc. Under one strategic pillar of BCGE, Women Empowerment, women of different ages at all levels are encouraged to stand up and talk confidently about any topic they would like to share.

What is the level of awareness among both employers and employees on the subject of gender equality?

When introducing Workplace Gender Equality to businesses, BCGE approaches top management. Once the businesses commit and agree to move on, depending on the type of services the businesses take, BCGE engages with different levels of employees. Typically, the engagement is with HR managers/heads, general managers or corporate directors from each company. We have seen better awareness at this level (they are part of the regular communications process with BCGE on a bi-monthly basis). Employees who participate in the trainings and CEOs or top management of companies also have awareness at a strategic level as they frequently participate in BCGE’s panel talks, events and campaigns.

What are the key challenges of achieving gender equality in workplaces in Myanmar?

As mentioned earlier, Workplace Gender Equality is a new topic in Myanmar, even within the subject of gender equality. Not being a legislative priority and less of a judicial enforcement coupled with existing stereotypes and perception, the journey for BCGE is definitely not an easy one. Some of the issues that we have encountered over the last two years include [the belief that] Workplace Gender Equality is not a need but a want for business according to Maslow’s Hierarchy, i.e it is not priority for all of businesses and they will do only if they want; [the belief that]  Workplace Gender Equality is additional work for businesses; [the belief that] Workplace Gender Equality is yet another area like corporate governance, agriculture, environmental conservation, labour rights etc; lack of understanding on Workplace Gender Equality within community and businesses; lack of law enforcement from government on Workplace Gender Equality; and [having] no incentive schemes for businesses who commit and work for Workplace Gender Equality.

What to you is the most significant form of inequality in workplaces in Myanmar? Is it gender bias in hiring, unequal pay, lack of growth opportunities, board representation or anything else?

From my personal point of view and experiences, there are a couple of actions and processes which we can identify as inequalities in the workplace in Myanmar. These include unconscious bias during the recruitment process—from job advertisement to selection process; salary and benefit packages, like different medical and per diem provision depending on position and level of authority; provision and encouragement of maternity and paternity leaves; stereotypes on sponsoring women’s voices and talents; and some bullying and harassment practices which are normalised.

From a regulatory/compliance standpoint, are there any clear guidelines for companies to work towards better gender representation in their workforce? Can you elaborate on any specific policies in this regard?

Unfortunately, Myanmar doesn’t have clear guidelines or laws for companies regarding better representation of women and men in their workforce though there are some clauses in labour law and constitution for Workplace Gender Equality. For example, the Myanmar Constitution’s Chapter 8, Clause 350 mentions equal rights for women and men; Minimum Wage Law & Rules, Chapter 8, Clause 14(h) focuses on equal pay for equal work of minimum wage for both of women and men; Factory Act Amendment, Chapter 5, Clause 50 describes child care facilities at factories; and the Factory Act Amendment Chapter 4, Clause 36 mentions health and safety of women in factories etc.

Is there anything unique to your market that is either helpful or impedes achieving gender equality in workplaces?

BCGE has a unique approach to encouraging Workplace Gender Equality in the market, which covers a developed Workplace Gender Equality methodology which links to equal workplace and sustainable business; free provision of local context friendly Know Your Workplace Gender Equality assessment and report for two member tiers of Initiator & Implementor; free provision of a regional level assessment and report, GEARS, for leader member; free provision of anti-harassment and non-discrimination policies template for member companies for their reference (all members of BCGE must have these two policies); EDGE Certification with membership price which is less than EDGE global certification price; bi-monthly and quarterly client care processes for all members for required support for their Workplace Gender Equality action plans and initiatives; provision of one day Basic Workplace Gender Equality training to all members; and promoting member’s Workplace Gender Equality initiatives on influential media, BCGE’s bi-monthly newsletter, BCGE’s social media pages, panel and talks of BCGE and partners.

This interview originally appeared on the Women Icons Network website. Minor revisions have been made.

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