Closing the gender gap will unlock economic potential in Asia

Averil MacDonald, left, Anita Hamilton, centre and Professor Reiko Kuroda, right

Averil MacDonald, left, Anita Hamilton, centre and Professor Reiko Kuroda, right, discussed barriers to women in the workplace at the Female Economic Growth Factor conference. Photo by Martyn Hicks

Closing the gender gap will unlock economic potential in Asia

02/03/17

By Naomi Canton

Government policies alone will not close the gender gap in the workplace nor address talent shortages in science and technology, both of which are holding back the growth of economies across Asia.

A change in attitudes and in the workplace culture and environment, grassroots efforts and concerted initiatives by schools and businesses are also critical to achieving gender equality, delegates at the conference titled The Female Economic Growth Factor, held at Asia House, were told.

It also makes economic sense. G20 leaders have set a target to reduce the gender gap in the labour market by 25 per cent by 2025 which is expected to add between 1.2 and 1.5pc point growth to the world economy by 2025.

“If we close the gender gap, the GDP in Japan will go up by 20 per cent,” said Professor Reiko Kuroda, a WINDS (Women’s Initiative in Developing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Careers) Ambassador and Professor at Tokyo University of Science.

In Japan just  14.7 per cent of researchers were female between 2003 and 2015. In Portugal 45.4 per cent were, she stated.

WINDS was launched at the G7 Ise-shima Summit in 2016.

But Professor Kuroda said although government policy was addressing the issue of gender inequality in the workplace in Japan, it was not trickling down to everyone’s minds.

She said women in Japan were still not equally paid and those returning after maternity leave often could not return to leadership roles and ended up in part-time roles. But she said the Japanese Government was doing its best.

“It takes time to change the social system and culture. But I want to convey to young girls the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). We also need to make the case to business and they will see their businesses are at risk if they don’t do anything,” she added.

“The biggest barrier to a girl studying science is her mother,” said Averil MacDonald, another WINDS Ambassador and former professor at the University of Reading. The problem is not confined to Asia but also apparent in the UK, she said.

“Mothers have stereotypical ideas about engineering careers and normally advise their daughters on another route. If we are not talking to Mums we are wasting our breath. It is the age 13 to 15 in the UK when girls make these important choices,” she added.

“If it’s not inviting, attractive or supportive, women won’t stay at a company. The percentage of physics students at A level and degree level has remained at 20 per cent for 35 years. The UK is the worst in Europe for the percentage of women in STEM careers, despite us trying to show girls where the opportunities are,” she said.

Careers advisors at schools need to be more educated on careers themselves, said Lynn Collier, COO, Hitachi Data Systems, speaking at the event which was co-hosted by the Embassy of Japan. She said it was vital that business took the lead in gender equality.

“We have held an open day just for women. People often think factories are dirty places, or you need physical strength to work in them so we take women round the manufacturing side of Hitachi Rail to change their perceptions. The philosophy is that if we have the right kind of environment we can start to see a shift in trends,” she said.

She said Hitachi had worked on the language of its job ads and images on its website and was making sure that people getting interviewed met a diverse mix of people at Hitachi. “We get more CVs from women now. Our UK sales director is a woman. The Managing Director of Hitachi Rail Europe is a woman,” she said.

Gender equality is high on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) agenda for 2017 too.

Willem Adema, Senior Economist, Social Policy Division at the OECD, which promotes policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world, joked that he had been brought in to “bring some gender balance to the all-female panel at the conference.”

“A lot of people that could be contributing to economic growth in OECD countries are not. Women on average have a higher education than men so in terms of productivity the economies could make gains,” he said. In all countries across the OECD 25 to 34 year olds women are more likely to have obtained a university degree than men, he said.

Willem Adema, Senior Economist, Social Policy Division at the OECD

Willem Adema, Senior Economist, Social Policy Division at the OECD, gave the keynote address. Photo by Martyn Hicks

“But women make up just over a third of graduates in science, maths and computing,” Mr Adema said.

“Young girls do better in literacy at school across the board in all the 35 OECD countries and boys do better in maths in some countries. France and Sweden both have close to 40 per cent women on the boards of companies, in the UK and Germany it is 30 per cent and in Japan and Korea it is below 10 per cent,” he added.

He said this was related to attitudes in society 30 to 40 years ago because a lot of choices made then affect the labour market today.

“Long hours and the culture of socialising after work in countries like Japan is not conducive to women in the workplace. Workers have to feel confident that even if they take their annual holiday entitlement it does not harm their careers. We need to make the workplace conducive to the use of maternity and paternity leave and take down barriers to mother returners,” he said.

“It has nothing to do with ability. It is about addressing stereotypes in schools and providing childcare,” he said.

France and Sweden came top for childcare provision in an OECD survey, whilst Japan and the US came bottom. Whilst Korea and Japan offer a year’s statutory paternity leave, in the UK it is only two weeks.

Despite Japan’s generous paternity leave, just 2.3 per cent of eligible working men actually take it.

“Japanese men do not feel it’s good for their career to take it,” Mr Adema said. “The labour force in Japan is in decline. Japan has a strong economic case to increase women in the workplace.”

Hiroshi Matsuura, Minister at the Embassy of Japan, said that getting more women into science, economics and business in Japan was a “central policy pillar” of the Shinzo Abe administration.

Hiroshi Matsuura, Minister at the Embassy of Japan, made remarks at The Female Economic Growth Factor conference. Photo by Martyn Hicks

Hiroshi Matsuura, Minister at the Embassy of Japan, made remarks. Photo by Martyn Hicks

He pointed out that the governor of Tokyo and The Leader of the Opposition were both women.

“Neither of those were propped up by Abe so the programme in Japanese society as a whole has led to this,” he said.

Barbara Rambousek, Associate Director, Economic Inclusion, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) spoke about how the Bank was focused on skilling up women in Asia in sectors such as manufacturing and engineering.

“In countries like Russia and Mongolia there is a skills mismatch which is proving to be a major business obstacle. We are trying to help solve this. We have 200 projects where our clients are working with us to enhance the number of women and strengthen workforce diversity,” she said.

Barbara Rambousek, Associate Director, Economic Inclusion, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), argaret Doyle, Head of Clients & Markets, Financial Services and Real Estate, Deloitte, argaret Doyle, Head of Clients & Markets, Financial Services and Real Estate, Deloitte and Lynn Collier, COO, Hitachi Data Systems. Ph

The second panel consisted of Barbara Rambousek, Associate Director, Economic Inclusion, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Margaret Doyle, Head of Clients & Markets, Financial Services and Real Estate, Deloitte, Vandita Pant, Group Treasurer and Head of Europe and BHP Billiton and Lynn Collier, COO, Hitachi Data Systems. Photo by Martyn Hicks

Seventeen per cent of the workforce of BHP Billiton, a global resources company, are women and 27 per cent of the board are.

To address this, the company has introduced flexible working patterns and is trying to improve the image of the industry, explained Vandita Pant, Group Treasurer and Head of Europe.

“Optics and perceptions do matter – we are trying to break stereotypes on what it takes to work and lead in our industry and building inclusion and diversity across our supply chain. We want to make sure our partners are aligned,” she said.

“What gets disclosed gets measure and acted upon,” she continued, saying pay gap statistics were disclosed at BHP Billiton.

She said to attract women they were introducing technology to make certain jobs, such as maintenance ones, less reliant on physical strength.

“If there are not enough women at the top there is a danger other women think only one type of women can rise to the top whereas if you look at men, it is not just one type of man that rises to the top,” she said.

A member of the audience asked the million-dollar question: how do women get round the old boys’ network to get promoted? “It’s critical to have recruitment, performance and talent management so transparent that how people get to the top cannot be opaque,” explained Pant.

naomi.canton@asiahouse.co.uk

As part of The University of Nottingham’s Global Dialogues series, Professor Sir David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Nottingham, and Chief Economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Sergei Guriev, will help chart a course for the future of globalisation. The event will take place at Asia House on Tuesday 14 March. For more information click here.