Ladder to Leadership – Women in Asia

Ladder to Leadership - Women in Asia

By: Nitya Vittal (Read more about Nitya)

The rapid economic growth in Asia is creating more opportunities for women in China, which is the second largest economy today; in India, a rising power in Asia, with its advanced science and entrepreneur approach; and in the already powerful economies of Japan and Korea. Two thirds of the world population is in Asia and almost 2 billion of them are women.

In spite of this, the representation of women in senior leadership roles is still significantly low. Based on data from the 2011 Gender Diversity Benchmark for Asia, the percentage of women at senior level positions is highest in Malaysia with 27.7 percent followed by Hong Kong at 22 percent, China with 20 percent, India at nine percent and Japan with seven percent.

The Obstacles Faced

So what obstacles do Asian women who wish to move into leadership positions face?

Is it gender inequality? A 2010 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report notes that Asia-Pacific countries remain behind the curve on gender equality. Is it stereotyping of women’s roles in society as a whole, or labor force in particular? Is it a lack of mentoring?

Could be a bit of everything, but, predominantly, culture and deep-rooted social norms are major obstacles for women’s leadership in Asia. In Asia, a working woman is a common phenomenon, especially in middle- and higher-middle income brackets and women are expected to contribute financially to the household income. Yet, their husbands remain the primary breadwinners. As a result, women are encouraged to pursue jobs like teaching, nursing and electronics assembling based on their “delicate handling” skill set.

Beyond this, once leadership aspirations emerge, tradition and stereotyping starts driving behaviors. The women are expected to take care of the domestic side of the household and act as primary caregiver, which means that meeting the needs of her husband, children, parents and in-laws is her major responsibility. This leads to a severe work/life conflict. With so much on their plates, unless women have exceptionally higher leadership qualities, few are able to overcome the challenges of moving to senior levels.

As a result, many women opt out of their professions when facing the transition from middle- to senior-levels of management. The 2011 Gender Diversity Benchmark for Asia indicates that 48 percent of women on average opt out during this transition. Japan averages an even higher rate of 70.24 percent.

When a woman wants to move to a senior level, her growth aspirations are often seen as a threat to the male dominated leadership. As a result, the chances of finding a male mentor are few and as there are fewer women in leadership positions, female mentors are even more difficult to find.

Potential Solutions

But there’s still hope, as there is a significant number of women in Asia who have made a mark in leadership positions. Forbes’ list of the “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” in 2011 includes 12 Asian women from business, politics and multilateral organizations, compared to only five in 2010.

Are there any magical solutions or strategies for women in Asia to grab the top role? Maybe educate people to change the common ideology that women are to hold a supporting role in their professional life and a leading role in the home. This could possibly serve to cultivate gender equality in the workforce, which would empower women to take up leadership roles and empower men to feel more comfortable with emerging women leaders.

Ideally we would then be looking at a new society of leaders not based on gender, but driven by skills and vision.

We want to hear from you: Can we at Jabil ignite this perception change?


Nitya Vittal

*About our guest blogger: Nitya Vittal joined Jabil in 2005 as a Planning/IC and Purchase Manager before accepting her current position of Materials Manager. Prior to joining Jabil, Nitya was employed at Surge Technology as a Director of Operations. She holds a PhD in Physics from the University of Pune.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on Jabil Joules, please email your story idea to

One Response to Ladder to Leadership – Women in Asia

  1. Monika Sharma says:

    This is great article by Nitya. The biggest true concern Nitya highlighted is a shortage of female role models. People often learn leadership styles by observing others; but there are often few female executives to observe. Women can watch male leaders too, of course, but men can’t illustrate how to navigate female stereotypes. Sad enough!!

    I would like to help change this environment for our JABIL women and help make it a flourishing workplace with equal opportunities.

    Best regards
    Monika Sharma (Program Manager Cisco account, India)

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