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Even for successful executives, women face doubts about global roles

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Even though 90 percent of Asian senior female executives want to take on global roles, most are uncertain if they will be given the chance, according to a new study.

Conducted by Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search provider, the study surveyed a total of 140 women in senior corporate roles across industries in Asia.

It found that 64 percent of the female executives surveyed thought they would not be given the opportunity to progress from regional leadership positions to global ones. Slightly more than half of those executives thought the reason for the lack of opportunities was their ethnicity, while 47 percent thought that that was due to their gender.

That could take a toll on employee turnover rates, as 85 percent of senior female executives surveyed indicated that they were thinking about leaving their companies in the next 2 years.

The challenge of progressing from a regional to global role make up the "biggest glass ceiling" for high-ranking women executives in the Asia Pacific region, said Alain Deniau, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles.

Nevertheless, global opportunities are available for senior women executives, especially in multinationals, said Stephanie Hung, who has spent more than 20 years working across regional and global roles at companies like IBM, HP and Microsoft. Hung said that multinationals usually have in place diversity and inclusion programs that ensure women have the chance to take on global roles.

There are, however, other reasons that could complicate the situation and explain why women are not taking on such roles, said Hung, who is now CEO of Alitheia Partners, a consulting firm for start-ups and small and medium enterprises. "Sometimes, it depends on the stage of their lives and their priorities, whether it's their children or parents. They have choices to make to balance their priorities," she said.

Even with a supportive management team, disgruntled colleagues are another hurdle that women in senior roles have to deal with.

"I don't take offense, but sometimes when you get the role, people make casual remarks about how some people only got the role because she's a woman," Hung said, "So, women have to work extra hard."

The solutions to the problem, Hung said, lie in the hands of upper management and women themselves. She added that the onus is on women in business and female entrepreneurs to support each other and build networks to accelerate their growth.

"It's very important for the leaders to embrace diversity," Hung said, "There are some leaders who talk about diversity but their behavior doesn't reflect this, for example, they will have a team of eleven men in senior positions but only one female."

"For diversity, the culture created by the leader is more important than the scorecard," she added.