Equity and Opportunity

South Asia faces a 'wake up' call as it trails the world in closing the gender gap

Key Points
  • South Asia is facing a "wake up moment" as it trails the world in its efforts to address the gender gap, Michael Page Australia's senior managing director has said.
  • The World Economic Forum is now predicting it could take the region 195 years to reach gender equality — two generations more than the global average.
  • India lags Asia Pacific in terms of female leadership, with just 13% of senior executive positions held by women. Thailand tops the list.
Thailand is top in Asia for one measure of gender equality, recruitment agency says

South Asia is facing a wake up call as it trails the world in its efforts to address the gender gap, one expert told CNBC.

The World Economic Forum predicts it could now take 195 years to reach gender equality in the region — 59 years more than the global average.

Businesses have a major responsibility to bridge that gap, Sharmini Wainwright, senior managing director at recruitment agency Michael Page Australia, told CNBC.

"It's perhaps a good wake up moment here," Wainwright said Thursday.

India, in particular, has a long way to go in this regard, she said, noting that the pandemic and other cultural and demographic issues made it an "incredibly challenging year" for the country. Currently, just 13% of senior executives in India are women.

"There's a long way to go," said Wainwright. "Big Indian companies (need) to really push for change."

The findings come as part of a wider WEF study into the impact of the pandemic on gender gap. It is now estimated that it will take 135.6 years to reach gender equality — a generation longer than previously thought.

Western Europe led the way in gender equity, with the gap there estimated to close in 53 years, followed by North America (62 years) and Latin America and the Caribbean (69 years), according to the study.

Thailand leads Asia-Pacific

Other parts of Asia-Pacific showed signs of progress, however. Most notably, Thailand saw more than half (53%) of senior executive roles being filled by women in 2020.

Those senior women executives tended to be a combination of international as well as homegrown talent, particularly within multinational companies in the manufacturing and supply chain sectors.

"What you've got is an economy and a market that is moving very quickly and pursuing talent very aggressively," said Wainwright.

She added that it was also the result of concerted efforts in recent decades by certain industries, such as manufacturing, to attract and nurture a pipeline of women leaders.

"Now, 20 years later, you've seen the benefit of that, of individuals who've really taken the opportunity to enjoy exceptional careers within this sector and really rise into leadership roles within that," she said.

More women needed in the top chair

Still, too few women today occupy the top leadership position, namely the chief executive's role.

According to the report, the top three job titles held by senior women executives were chief finance officer, marketing director and legal director.

Wainwright described that as the next "big breakthrough that needs to happen," and called on men to be better allies.

"How do we break through to that number one seat? That's still yet to come," she said.

"This conversation is equally about males as it is females. They're the ones typically in the positions of highest influence to make a change, to make a decision."