The face of business leadership in Vietnam is overwhelmingly male, with only one woman for every four men reaching senior management positions.
Women are not the problem. According to recent data from Vietnam’s General Statistics Office and the IMF, female participation rate in Vietnam surpasses some of the best performers among the advanced economies.1 A survey by Investing in Women also found that women in Vietnam are equally as keen as men to achieve senior management roles—personal motivation is not lacking.
Women do want to be economically independent. If women in Vietnam are as ambitious as men, then why aren’t they making it to the top?
‘Women take care, men take charge’
Gender stereotypes persist, particularly rigid outdated attitudes toward women’s roles at home. Women are primarily responsible for domestic work and family affairs, according to Asian population studies on gender roles in the family.2 This takes a toll on their career choices.
The burden of housework is preventing women from pursuing high-paying jobs. Research by Vietnam’s Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS) shows that women do 12 household tasks, compared to men who only do one or two chores.3 This is why many women prefer jobs close to home to have more time caring for their families.
Gender bias is confining Vietnamese women to caregiving roles, stopping them from considering different types of work and from advancing professionally. A more equal outlook and share of housework would enable both men and women to move forward, thrive, and assume leadership roles, both within and outside the family.
Barriers to women’s promotion
Women also face challenges getting promoted. The same study by ISDS shows that working women are expected to be domestically engaged because of the perception that housework is a woman’s inevitable duty.4 Women face a double burden. Barriers limit their career growth and they must work twice as hard as men to gain economic independence.
The bias against women in Vietnam is widespread. Women are seen less effective and more complicated at work, and they are less likely to be given the chance to prove themselves and improve their professional qualifications. The same study by ISDS found that the number of Vietnamese women promoted to a higher position is less than half that of men.5 The number of women who attend training programs or conferences is often less than three-fourths that of men, it added.
Women business leaders matter
The economic arguments for gender equality are overwhelming. Many studies reveal that gender diversity in leadership boosts profits. A study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics finds that having at least 30% of women in leadership roles can add 15% to a company’s net profit margin.6
Vietnam’s success as a middle-income country depends on harnessing all of its productive assets. To be the economic powerhouse and maintain regional competitiveness, Vietnam needs more women business leaders and the resulting overall economic development. The ISDS study shows that more than driving financial success, women leaders help businesses cope with complex issues and offer different perspectives to solve problems. With their inputs, decisions are better informed, more inclusive, relevant, and innovative.7
Women business leaders are essential for better businesses and more inclusive economies. Investing in Women supports business coalitions in Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Philippines to ensure more inclusive workplaces and businesses. These groups of large employers are leading the efforts to ensure policies and practices provide men and women equal opportunity to get decent jobs and progress to senior positions.
The initiative is also collaborating with the Vietnam Government to update the Labour Code. Through wide-spread public consultations, stakeholders have highlighted the need for reforms to promote workplace gender equality and address women and men’s equal opportunities and treatment. This includes tackling social norms limiting women’s ability to participate in the economy.
Changing the status quo is a big step towards achieving gender equality in Vietnam’s executive ranks. Economic opportunities should not go to waste because bias distorts the way people evaluate women, often to their disadvantage.
1 Angana Banerji, Albe Gjonbalaj, Sandile Hlatschwayo, Anh Van Le, “Asian Women At Work,” in IMF Finance & Development Magazine, September 2018, https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2018/09/female-labor-force-participation-in-vietnam-banerji.htm
2 John Knodel, Vu Manh Loi, Rukmalie Jayakody, and Vu Tuan Huy, Gender Roles in the Family: Change and Stability in Vietnam, PSC Research Report, University of Michigan, 2004, https://www.psc.isr.umich.edu/pubs/pdf/rr04-559.pdf
3,4,5 Institute of Social Development Studies, Social Determinants of Inequality in Vietnam, Hanoi, 2015, https://vietnam.embassy.gov.au/files/hnoi/ISDS_Report_Binh%20dang%20gioi_EN_PDF-2.pdf
6,7 Marcus Noland, Tyler Moran, and Barbara Kotschwar, Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Survey, Peterson Institute for International Economics, February 2016, https://piie.com/system/files/documents/wp16-3.pdf