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Investing in Women: Breaking gender bias at all levels

Thought Piece /18 March 2022

Gender bias holds back both women and men from realising their true potential in all areas of life. This is especially so when it comes to women in business and the workplace. While we’ve made great strides in recent years towards gender equality, we continue to see biased ideas and practices that disadvantage women.   

In times of crisis, these biases are exacerbated. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women shows just how deeply gender bias is engrained in our societies. Biases that see caring and domestic work as the responsibility of women mean that when schools and businesses close and people are forced to stay home, it’s the women who should take on the extra work (like preparing meals and home-schooling children). And when women’s domestic load gets bigger due to stereotypes like this, it’s their career and their businesses that suffer or are sacrificed altogether, taking us a step backwards on women’s economic empowerment and on gender equality. 

But a crisis like COVID-19 also opens ups opportunities for change. Our study on Social Norms, Attitudes and Practices shows how the gender roles people see growing up in their childhood home, in their social circles and in the media, all play an important part in determining how people think and act. The kinds of things we see the people around us do and say, inevitably shapes our perceptions of what we think society expects of us. And then we conform to meet those expectations. 

Yet there is a mismatch between our perceptions of gender roles compared to what is actually going on behind closed doors. While around 80% of respondents believed that women were still the primary caregivers of children within households, only 50% of women reported this to be the case in their own homes. We are more equal than we think and we need to be more open about the equality within our homes. The research suggested that, if we are going to embrace gender equality, we will need to see others – from our social circles, workplace and in the media – embracing gender equality too. 

We know that gender stereotypes and expectations are not fixed and do change. For example, urban millennials across Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines increasingly aspire to share childcare responsibilities with their partners. Which is why Investing in Women works with partners from all parts of society to positively shift gender norms.  

And as we continue to recover from the health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic, it is critical that we do this not only with an awareness of gender bias, but in ways that actively challenge gender bias at all levels.  

 

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At Investing in Women, we are tackling gender bias at the roots and the branches. Through our work on understanding, influencing and ultimately shifting gender norms, we are normalising women’s role in the economy, promoting men’s role at home and dispelling the gender stereotypes upon which bias is based. Through our work on workplace gender equality and gender lens investing, we are proactively addressing and dismantling the discrimination against women that gender bias results in. We support Business Coalitions in Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam that work with influential businesses on removing bias within workplace cultures, practices and policies to achieve workplace gender equality. We are also working with impact investing partners to inject much-needed capital into women-led SMEs in South East Asia.  

This International Women’s Day, we celebrate the achievements of the individuals and partner organisations who have worked with us to #BreaktheBias and made it possible for Investing in Women to be recognised as an international thought leader in women’s economic empowerment. We also look forward to seeing the Investing in Women: Women in Inclusive, Sustainable Economic Recovery (IWISER) program accelerate women’s economic empowerment and advocate for gender equality in South East Asia beyond IW from 2023. 

We know that when we take action to #BreaktheBias, we embrace women at work and as leaders, and embrace men at home as fathers and in caring roles. When we #BreaktheBias, we give women the opportunity to achieve success in their careers and in business so that the talents of the whole society are fully utilised, and all perspectives are taken on board. When we #BreaktheBias, we improve business competitiveness, build equitable societies and communities, and drive more inclusive economic growth.  

We cannot rebuild a sustainable world of tomorrow on the same uneven foundations of yesterday. As we celebrate International Women’s Day in 2022 and also look to the future, we must continue to work together to #BreaktheBias at home, in the workplace and in the society that we live in.  

 

Dr. Julia Newton-Howes
CEO, Investing in Women 

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