What’s holding women back? New research by Investing in Women (IW) into changing social norms and attitudes in Asia 

Investing in Women (IW) is an Australian Government funded initiative which aims to drive equitable and inclusive economic growth in South East Asia by contributing to women’s economic empowerment.

A long term, multi-country initiative, the program develops interventions which aim to foster market access for women and create a favorable working environment by influencing public and national policy maker attitudes to female participation in the workforce and changing the regulatory environment to remove barriers to women’s economic participation. To inform these interventions, IW commissioned research into changing social norms and attitudes among one of South East Asia’s fastest growing demographics: urban millennials.

In each of Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, 2000 men and women aged between 18 – 40 years were surveyed to profile attitudes towards ambition in the workforce, perceptions of sharing domestic and household chores, parental leave and women’s economic participation. 

Historically, female labour participation in South Asia is low – between 27 – 29% over the last decade. In 2018, it was close to parity in Vietnam (75%), and in Indonesia and the Philippines, 52% and 46% respectively. Despite this, IW’s research identified that men and women express similar levels of desire to reach and hold senior or leadership positions. This finding suggests that although women are as ambitious or driven as men, barriers to their participation persist. 

Combined with data on gender equality at work, these findings suggest that there is still much work to be done to enable the full potential of women in south east Asian economies.  Note: The IW survey is entitled ‘Shifting millennial gender norms: Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines’.

In the Philippines, these ratios show a more favorable ratio of women to men in leadership positions at 0.96, female workforce representation is much lower, at a rate of 0.34 females to males. In Vietnam, the opposite is true: the female labour force participation rate is high, but few women reach leadership roles.

Chart 1 – Ratio of females to males in the labour force and leadership roles

CountryRatio of females to males participating in the labour forceRatio of females to males in leadership positions

Source: McKinsey’s 2018 report “The Power of Parity”. Author’s own calculations and Chart.

The results from the IW survey have been used to inform awareness campaigns in the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia. The video above, #KitaMulaiSekarang: DJ in the house! is a video from one of the campaigns, and Chart 2 below, ‘Urban millennials – attitudes to work’, illustrates similarities and differences in motivation  for work. 

Over 50% of women work for personal fulfillment and professional development (see chart below). Women – much more than men – in Vietnam (56%) and Indonesia (48%) are primarily motivated to work for economic independence.

Chart 2 – More women than men work for economic independence

Further details on the research, including additional video campaigns, can be found herehere and here.