Advancing Women in Asia

Mary Ellen Iskenderian, president and CEO of Women's World Banking, moderated the discussion.
Mary Ellen Iskenderian, president and CEO of Women's World Banking, moderated the discussion.

NEW YORK, March 5, 2009 - Even with the current economic climate, promoting gender diversity in the workplace is still an important business strategy, according to a panel of experts in business and women's leadership issues in Asia.

Speaking at the Asia Society headquarters in New York, the panel, which featured Ted Childs, principal of Ted Childs LLC, Pierre-Louis Seguin, managing director at Accenture, Deborah Soon, VP of marketing and executive leadership initiatives at Catalyst, and moderator Mary Ellen Iskenderian, president and CEO of Women's World Banking, also discussed the challenges women still face in the corporate sector in Asia.

"From a corporate social responsibility point of view, gender diversity is the right thing to do," said Soon. "But from a business perspective, it's also the smart thing to do."

According to Soon, research conducted by Catalyst showed that companies who have a higher percentage of gender diversity in senior management and in the board level have better financial performance. But even with such quantitative proof, women still face challenges. "The biggest barrier for women's advancement is still gender-based stereotyping, and it is still prevalent," said Soon.

However, companies that prioritize innovation, such as Accenture, have promoted programs and initiatives to encourage gender diversity--to great success. "We started the [gender diversity] programs to bring innovation into what we do," said Seguin. "We wanted to shake the house."According to Seguin, up to 60 percent of the Accenture workforce in the Asia-Pacific region, specifically India and the Philippines, are women.

Soon also cited Baxter International, which operates in China and the Philippines, as another company that has successfully imposed a policy that ensured 50 percent of its workforce are women, especially in criticial positions like sales and management.

Childs presented a different approach to stressing the need for gender diversity in the workplace. "Debating over it's the right thing to do, and it's the smart thing to do ... does not work," said Childs. "It's a survival strategy." He continued, "There are countries that are running out of business strategies because they ar not [employing] women appropriately. If you want to survive as a business, you have to pick up on this one."