#EachforEqual: Empowering Women across Asia

Pursuing gender equality can unleash the region’s economic potential and reinforce its dynamic growth. Here is how Telenor’s Asia companies are playing their part to empower women.

Written: Mar 2020

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Today, only 47% of women globally are engaged in the labour market, as compared to 74% of men.

In Asia, this percentage varies widely. Less than one in three women, or 23.6%, in South Asia are active in the labour market, versus 80% for men. In East Asia, the gap is less worrisome as the participation rate for women remains the second highest globally at 61.3%

Such huge disparities and deep inequality do not happen by chance. Discrimination, biases, social norms and expectations influence the opportunities girls receive in education and at work. Societal and cultural perceptions of gender can be deep-rooted and puts a detrimental brake on progress towards sustainable development.

But this year’s International Women’s Day campaign #EachforEqual emphasises how gender inequality is not just a women’s issue, but an economic one – as gender equality is essential for economies and communities to thrive.

“An equal world is an enabled world”

That is the core message of #EachforEqual, the idea that each of us can make a difference on the larger society. According to McKinsey Global Institute, closing the gender gaps could add $4.5 trillion to the Asia Pacific economy by 2025, a 12% increase over the business-as-usual trajectory.

In the Asian countries where Telenor operates, there is large disparity – but also vast opportunity – in gender equality. In Malaysia and Myanmar, more than one in two women aged 15 to 64 are in the workforce, while Thailand sees over 60% of women in the workforce. The number drops to 38% in Bangladesh and 25% in Pakistan. However, in a pattern mimicked across the globe, the higher up the leadership chain, the fewer women you find – women only hold 12% of CEO and board level positions in Southeast Asia.

Making strides across Asia

Nonetheless, Telenor’s companies in Asia have been bucking the trend and making diversity a top priority. At dtac in Thailand, the number of female employees outnumber males by 1.5 times – 6 in 10 employees are women. In Telenor Myanmar, around 40% of the workforce are women and close to 30% of leaders are female.

At Digi in Malaysia, there is a healthy and progressive gender diversity at the top – with 48% female and 52% male representation at management level, as well as a 43% women representation on the Board, surpassing the Malaysian government’s recommendation of 30%. Industry-leading practices have also helped Digi to achieve a 50-50 male-female workforce.

Diversity and inclusion have long formed the fabric of Digi’s culture. We emphasise a balance in diversity based on attributes that are inherited (gender, age, ethnicity) and acquired (skills & abilities) across our workforce. We believe that this holistic approach on diversity is integral to enable a culture that embraces and respects multiple viewpoints, thus empowering us to understand and serve our customers better – if you take a look around at Digi, we have employees from all walks of life, and this mirrors who we serve as customers.” – Elisabeth Stene, Chief Human Resources Officer, Digi

Challenges Remain

South Asia, where Grameenphone and Telenor Pakistan are present, presents a graver picture. The economic gender gap runs deep. Pakistan ranks second last on the Global Gender Gap Index by World Economic Forum, with a female labour force participation of 22.2%, which is significantly lower than male labour force participation.

Telenor’s companies, however, have adopted a multi-pronged approach to attract, develop and retain the best female talent. This includes ensuring that policies and benefits are best-in-class and match global practices.

From October 2015, female employees across all of Telenor’s markets are entitled to a minimum of six months paid maternity leave. This is particularly significant for Asia, where the local standard is less than six months. Telenor Pakistan’s New Beginnings (Naya Aghaaz) program launched in 2014 also helps to relaunch the careers of women who have left the workforce, by hiring them on a project basis while encouraging them to apply for permanent positions.

While Pakistan has a long way to go, the future looks promising due to the collective efforts being taken by global and local companies. Changing the landscape for women in the Pakistani corporate sector will require a holistic and well-rounded approach. We need active ownership and intervention from government, academia, industry and media to bring about a sustainable change. If all these parties get on board and play their part in the equation, we can expect to see changes from the grassroots to the top.” Lene Gaathaug, Chief Human Resources Officer, Telenor Pakistan

What’s next: Telenor sets 2023 diversity goals

Although great strides have been made over the past few years, it is clear that more can be done in Asia – and globally – for equality. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 says that it will take another 257 years before achieving pay equality globally. The same report showed that only 40% of women in the workforce are occupying skilled roles. Companies small and large, no matter where they are on the map, have a part to play.

To achieve equality, Telenor has decided on new global ambitions for 2023: to increase the percentage of women in the global workforce from the current 37% to 40%, and to strive for the senior leadership level to include 35% of women, up from the current 30%.

These goals will serve as signposts, but the work on diversity and inclusion does not end there.