Vietnam is one of the few countries in the world that boasts of the highest ratio of women participating in the labour force (~72%). Vietnam also has a very high percentage of women holding top management positions (~28% compared to global average of 19%). The government has also taken initiatives by revising the labour code and rolling out a national strategy for gender equality.
However, there are still many barriers to gender equality in the workplace in Vietnam. The proportion of women involved in management and leadership has increased but is still generally low and disproportionate to the increase in the number of female workers. In some organizations, a pay gap still exists between men and women doing the same job. There are fewer opportunities for women to access high-income jobs, than for men. Women are also more vulnerable when businesses need to cut down their workforce.
With this socio-economic backdrop and the key mandate of pursuing Workplace Gender Equality (WGE) and Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) , the Vietnam Business Coalition for Women’s Empowerment (VBCWE) was established in early 2018 through Investing in Women (IW).
VBCWE Country Director, Ms Hang Le, discussed the coalition’s milestones and plans moving forward in an interview with Women Icons Network.
What have been the responses to the initiatives of VBCWE so far?
The coalition has recruited 15 members which are influential businesses in various industries, such as Deloitte Vietnam, Vietnam Maritime Commercial Joint Stock Bank, Southern Airports Services Joint Stock Company, Vietnam Electricity Corporation and Traphaco Pharmaceutical Jsc. With more than 145,000 people employed by VBCWE’s members in total, we are working hard to spread the impact of WGE initiatives in the business community.
So far VBCWE has been well-recognised as a centre of excellence for WGE in Vietnam among both business community and social organisations. Vietnamese businesses, especially big companies, are paying more and more attention to sustainable development goals in general and WGE-related areas in particular. As for now, VBCWE is the only organisation in Vietnam to provide businesses with comprehensive solutions, from assessment, training and consultancy to help build a thorough WGE strategy, through which [companies can] improve the work environment, enhance business performance and achieve sustainability goals.
What kind of activities are usually carried out?
VBCWE’s major activities include:
Supporting businesses to undergo Workplace Gender Equality assessment in order to achieve regional and global recognition/certification using EDGE and GEARS (Gender Equality Assessment, Results and Strategies), a measurement tool for WGE being applied in four South East Asian countries–the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam. VBCWE has supported eight companies in Vietnam to assess and achieve EDGE certification. VBCWE also works closely with these companies in the implementation of the WGE action plan, helping them really improve and transform their work environment.
Providing trainings and consultancy on WGE-related topics to businesses, business associations and other partners. The topics include: WGE and WEE, Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) corporate culture, inclusive leadership, anti-sexual harassment in the workplace and flexible work arrangements.
VBCWE has been advocating for gender equality in the workplace through various events. VBCWE has also been recognised by governmental organisations for our credibility in the field of WGE. We have built a partnership with VBCSD to promote sustainability in Vietnamese businesses, especially from WGE perspectives. VBCWE has been invited to join the assessment board for the Program on Benchmarking and Announcing Top Sustainable Companies in Vietnam. We provide consultancy on WGE-related indicators in the Corporate Sustainability Index, which is the assessment base for the Program.
Actively advocating for policy reform regarding WGE issues, VBCWE participated in the consultation of the draft for the National Strategy on Gender Equality for the period of 2021-2030 and provided suggestions related to raising awareness of gender equality in the workplace, eliminating gender stereotypes in the talent management cycle, including recruitment, promotion, remuneration and leadership development training.
Is there engagement of women employees in the program or is it completely employer-led?
Most of VBCWE’s activities engage with employers, as we identify leaders and key decision-makers in businesses to be our main target audiences. However, there is still significant engagement of employees in the program (not only females but also males). The employees are greatly impacted, and they benefit from the changes in companies’ policies. For example, flexible work arrangements application will enable employees to have better work-life balance; and providing men with access to longer paternity and parental leave and encouraging its uptake creates opportunities to balance time spent for unpaid caring work between men and women, which will benefit individuals, families and organisations.
What is the level of awareness among both employers and employees on the subject of gender equality? Are there any key challenges?
Awareness on gender equality in the workplace in Vietnam is still very low. Leaders at some enterprises still hold a belief that gender equality means having a perfectly balanced workforce (50% male – 50% female) or having preferential policies for women. They should understand that gender equality ensures benefits for both genders.
On the other hand, many business leaders confirm that there is no inequality or discrimination in their workplaces. However, when we dig deeper, statistics show that inequalities do exist in recruitment, promotion, pay, and career development opportunities. As businesses don’t thoroughly understand the concept of Workplace Gender Equality, they are mistaking neglection for completion.
In general, both employers and employees are still strongly influenced by the gender norms that expect women to be the primary caregiver and men to be the main income earner. This leads to many unconscious biases in the workplace throughout the talent management cycle, from recruitment to promotion, opportunities to uptake leadership positions, or succession planning.
What to you is the most significant form of inequality in workplaces in Vietnam?
Career opportunities for women leaders, particularly board representation, is the most significant inequality in the workplace in Vietnam. This originated from the gender bias throughout the career development process.
From a regulatory standpoint, are there clear guidelines for companies to work towards better gender representation in their workforce?
In Vietnam, there is no specific regulation that provides guidelines for businesses towards better gender representation in the workplace. The draft for the National Strategy on Gender Equality for the period of 2021-2030 mentions an indicator on the percentage of women in the management board in general but doesn’t provide specific guidance for companies.
Is there anything that is unique to your market that impacts progress towards gender equality in workplaces?
According to a recent SNAP (Social Norms, Attitudes and Practices) survey conducted by IW, Vietnamese women are as ambitious as men to get promoted and reach senior management roles (84% of respondents from both genders said they would aim for senior management positions), and this result from Vietnam is higher than other surveyed countries in the region. This could be an opportunity to speed up the momentum for WGE goals in Vietnam.
Support from the government is also helpful. However, it is important to recognise and emphasise the influence of the gender norms and stereotypes that have been shaped and lasted for over a thousand years. This is the biggest obstacle that impedes the achievement of WGE in Vietnam.
This interview originally appeared on the Women Icons Network website. Minor revisions have been made.