What Asian Women Really Want

Image credit: iStockphoto/Ekaterina Pushina

This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) theme is #BreakTheBias. With the attention of employee engagement at an all-time high, the IWD campaign has never been more applicable to the Asian workplace. 

More Asian women workers (82%) were negatively impacted at their workplace than their male colleagues (78%) in 2021, according to a global study by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence that surveyed 6,000 respondents across the region. It also noted that more female workers (26%) lacked the confidence in advancing their careers than male peers (19%).

Design employee experience for disproportionate impact

Although the ongoing pandemic is causing disconnection and raising stress levels across the entire workforce, it disproportionately impacts women and their careers.

It is why 300,000 women left the workforce in September 2021 in the U.S. alone. According to Gartner’s report “What Women Want From Hybrid Work Experience,” the reason is the unbalanced distribution of work and household responsibilities.

To avoid losing a large portion of the workforce, Gartner advised employers to design their employee experience that takes into account women’s experience in the hybrid workplace.

The combination of bias toward household responsibilities is also widening the gender equality gap in Asia.

“Women certainly face challenges of balancing family and career, just as men do. However, women are generally [seen as] the primary caregiver,” said Sheena Chin, head of ASEAN at data management company Cohesity. “Work-life balance also doesn’t purely relate to looking after children; it may be caring for an elderly parent, an unwell sibling, a close family member, or your spouse as well.”

As a female executive for a global organization, Chin said, “hybrid or remote working are blurring the boundaries further, and work is taking an even greater share of our lives.”

Be aware of proximity bias when remote working

Despite blurring boundaries, women workers still prefer remote working more than men. Gartner’s report noted that 36% of women workers like to work remotely full time, with almost half wanting to work in a hybrid setup.

The problem is that this preference for remote working introduces proximity bias, which can further widen the gender equity gap. According to Gartner, remote workers were 1.6 times more likely to receive corrective feedback — which focuses on unsuccessful behaviors or results — than in-office workers. Sixty-four percent of executives and managers also indicated in-office workers were higher performers than remote workers.

So it comes as no surprise that fewer women workers (57%) felt that their employers were giving them fair recognition and rewards than men (63%).

Use hybrid work opportunities to listen better

Another area of gender bias lies in the levels of effort put into their work, pointed out the Gartner report.

“Only 10% of women told us they don’t care if their work is done well or poorly, compared to 17% of men,” the report stated. Gartner felt the higher levels of effort from women workers also resulted in higher levels of fatigue. More than half (59%) of women workers indicated feeling tired before arriving at work compared to men (49%).

Helping workers establish work-life boundaries and tackling fatigue, regardless of gender, should be a priority for organizations, said Cohesity’s Chin.

“This prioritization could be in the form of engagement programs, employee benefit provisions, education and training, and initiatives like meeting-free time blocks or regular refresh days,” she said.

Chin added business leaders should take the lead to enforce these measures and foster open dialogs with their teams to enable accurate and timely understanding of workers’ sentiment. With hybrid working becoming a new normal, Chin said new issues that previously never existed might also arise.

“The most practical piece of advice that I can share — and this is important for resolving any issue or simply creating deeper team cohesion — is to listen and foster an environment where people can communicate and be heard,” she said. “Having an ‘open door’ is vital for any leader, and understanding how team members or direct reports want to be engaged with on an individual level can also be helpful.”

Gartner added when organizations move from doing nothing to taking actions on societal issues, the proportion of highly engaged employees could jump as much as 20%.

“Employers must bear these expectations in mind as they design the hybrid workplace,” stated the report. “In the short term, they must consider how to make the workplace a safe environment for the workforce still living through a pandemic. In the long term, they must understand how to take advantage of the opportunities of hybrid work to improve the employee experience.”

Sheila Lam is the contributing editor of DigitalWorkforceTrends. Covering IT for 20 years as a journalist, she has witnessed the emergence, hype, and maturity of different technologies but is always excited about what's next. You can reach her at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/Ekaterina Pushina