Globally, women make up roughly 50 per cent of the paid labour force, yet only occupy a minority of senior roles. This holds true for Vietnam too, despite having one of the highest female workforce participation rates in the world.
RMIT University researchers Dr Matthew McDonald, Truc Do and Susan Mate studied the key barriers and enablers to women occupying leadership positions in both Australia and Vietnam.
“One of the main barriers that women [in Vietnam] experience comes down to organisational culture, which is typically male-dominated. Many public organisations in Vietnam function as ‘iron cages’ so that organisational structures and cultures are hierarchical, bureaucratic and patriarchal in nature,” Ms Truc said.
The role of Confucian philosophy in Vietnamese society can affect perceptions that men are natural born leaders, whereas women are not. “Gender-based stereotypes and prejudice are still common,” she added. “Women are viewed as inferior leaders compared to men.”
“Many women in Vietnam continue to feel obligated to conform to traditional gender roles, for example, accepting that a husband’s career should take precedence over their own and taking primary responsibility for household tasks such as cooking, cleaning and being the primary care-giver for children and elderly members of the family.” Ms Truc said.
She explained that mentorships are essential in assisting women into leadership positions: “Mentoring by a more experienced woman helps to challenge their younger colleagues’ thinking that they are not suited to be leaders in the same way as men.”
“What is needed is an increase in Vietnamese women’s consciousness around gender issues so as to build a social movement focused on challenging gender stereotypes and discrimination, both in society and organisations” Ms Truc said.
Meanwhile, as urban Vietnamese women are exposed to globalising influences, they will start to “challenge and reconfigure genderised social norms”.
“Having more women occupy leadership roles is a complex issue involving historical, cultural, economic and political forces that take time and energy to change,” Ms Truc said.
She believes that a change in attitude is essential to further develop Vietnam, both socially and economically: “Women represent 50 per cent of Vietnam’s intellectual capability, therefore, if the country is going to compete on the global stage, it needs to leverage every ounce of human capital it possesses.”
Story: Jamila Ahmed