The pandemic left profound impacts on the global economy and disrupted hard-earned progress on gender equality. The pressures of COVID-19—economic disruptions, job losses, and increased caregiving demands—disproportionately affected women, putting at risk the momentum towards workplace gender equality (WGE). The private sector response to COVID-19 challenges offers insights and lessons for not only mitigating these effects but also for building more resilient and equal post-pandemic economies.
Post-pandemic, firms in Southeast Asia are navigating a complex environment, including transitioning economies, evolving skill requirements, and demographic changes in the workforce. Addressing the impacts of climate change and accelerating the transition to a green economy is a critical challenge—reshaping existing workforce dynamics and shaping demands for the workforce of the future. Taking a gender-equal approach to these transitions will unlock greater potential for productivity and growth, but it requires a targeted approach to critical sectors and a sustained focus on WGE.
The drivers for change are increasingly robust, especially for companies integrated into global supply chains who must consider both compliance requirements and reputational risk. Government policies and legal frameworks can motivate companies to integrate WGE, but momentum is also driven by rising expectations among local consumers and employees, who increasingly view WGE as a measure of a company’s reputation.
That is why in 2023, Investing in Women, the Australian Government’s flagship initiative for gender equality in Southeast Asia, renewed efforts to catalyse women’s economic participation for inclusive, sustainable recovery and growth. We supported businesses to become more resilient by adopting workplace gender equality initiatives, such as flexible working arrangements, integrated digital technologies, and equal employment pathways for women.
As the body of evidence on the business case for gender equality in the workplace continues to grow, and as understanding of the connection between business success and gender equality deepens, we look forward to increasing commitment from companies looking to create inclusive and equitable workplaces. At IW, we will be working to strengthen the enabling environment for women’s economic participation by amplifying positive examples of gender-equal attitudes and practices, increasing capital flow to women-owned or -led businesses, and contributing to policy reforms that support better access to quality care—a critical factor for increasing women’s labour force participation.
In 2024 and beyond, we hope our support for the impactful work of our local and regional partners will serve as powerful catalysts that encourage more organisations to become part of this transformative journey.
CEO, Investing in Women