Social Inclusion & Human Rights

Promoting Gender Parity in the APAC Region

A growing body of research from the likes of McKinsey & Company, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Development Dimensions International investigates the long-term effect gender parity can have both on companies and on the economies in which they operate.

Like diversity and inclusivity more broadly, equitable gender representation can benefit businesses in any number of ways, from helping companies address blind spots and develop creative approaches to problems to giving them an edge in competitive talent-recruitment landscapes.

That said, the best approach to achieving gender equality may be specific to a country or region’s particular situation. A new report from the McKinsey Global Institute looks at the possibility of achieving gender equality in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. Although APAC is considered “a region,” the report demonstrates huge differences in women’s current situation and what they need for gender parity to become reality.

Gender Parity in the APAC Region

McKinsey found that improving gender equality in these countries could add $4.5 trillion to the region’s total annual GDP by 2025, an increase of 12%. “Women can help—and are helping—to power this engine, making vital contributions to sustaining and enhancing Asia’s growth and lifting more people out of poverty,” write the report’s authors. “Yet gaps remain in many countries in the region on gender equality in both work and in society.”

With the highest possible score being 1, the report evaluates 18 countries on 15 economic and social indicators related to gender equality. Women in the APAC region face a relatively challenging legal and political environment compared to global averages. South and Southeast Asia in particular lack meaningful safeguards and support for women in this area, for example the right to work or to inherit assets and opportunities to engage in political life. However, the scores also demonstrate the area’s complexity. In the category of legal protection and political voice, scores among South and Southeast Asian countries range from 0.16 (Sri Lanka and Pakistan) to 0.51 (Philippines).

The findings also suggest that there is room for improvement when it comes to gender equality at work in the broader APAC region. The data shows that the Philippines has demonstrated the most progress in leveling the playing field, followed by New Zealand and Singapore. Bangladesh, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, and South Korea were the biggest laggards.

Turning Aspirations into Reality

To close those gaps, the report’s authors make five recommendations:

  1. Concentrate on increasing female participation in the labor force. This shift alone accounts for 58% of the GDP opportunity ($2.61 trillion). To achieve better female participation, countries and companies need to address lack of childcare, one of the primary factors keeping women from fully participating in the labor force.
  2. Focus on achieving gender parity in leadership positions. Policymakers could help by implementing education and training programs that get more women into the leadership pipeline. The pipeline is essential, as graduating to the C-suite requires deep experience and preparation. This is also an area where impact investors can help. By using shareholder engagement, they can encourage public companies to embrace policies that promote gender diversity.
  3. Improve access to digital technology. When female entrepreneurs have access to technology, they may be able to avoid some of the barriers that they face offline. The gig economy—which is far more accessible via the internet—offers many women the flexibility to work while still managing commitments at home.
  4. Change cultural attitudes around women’s role in society and at work. Achieving gender equality can’t happen without defeating widespread gender bias. Organizations can do this by encouraging male allies to promote change from within.
  5. Work together as a region to promote gender parity. While each country has its own work to do, collaborating as a region can boost the pace of progress. Impact investing is one potential regional solution, either via development impact bonds like the $8 million Women’s Livelihood Bond or through gender-lens investing. Setting strong example, in 2017 Japan’s $1.3 trillion Government Pension Investment Fund announced plans to increase the percentage of its investments based on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors from 3% to 10%. To work toward this goal as it relates to gender diversity, the world’s largest pension fund will use the MSCI Japan Empowering Women Index as one of its benchmarks.

As the report’s authors write, “Advancing women’s equality in work and society represents one of the most sizable economic opportunities for the world.” Seizing this opportunity—and bettering countless lives across the globe—means knowing where support is needed and having potential tangible solutions in place.

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