South Asia is facing a wake-up call as it follows the world in its efforts to address the gender gap, an expert told CNBC.
The World Economic Forum predicts that it could now take 195 years to achieve gender equality in the region, 59 years longer than the world average.
Companies have a great responsibility to close that gap, Sharmini Wainwright, senior managing director of recruiting agency Michael Page Australia, told CNBC.
“Maybe it’s a good time to wake up here,” Wainwright said Thursday.
India, in particular, has a long way to go in this regard, he said, noting that the pandemic and other cultural and demographic issues made it an “incredibly challenging year” for the country. Currently, only 13% of top executives in India are women.
“There is a long way to go,” Wainwright said. “Big Indian companies (need to) really drive change.”
The findings are part of a larger WEF study on the impact of the pandemic on the gender gap. It is now estimated that it will take 135.6 years to achieve gender equality, one more generation than previously thought.
Western Europe led the way in gender equity, and the gap is estimated to close in 53 years, followed by North America (62 years) and Latin America and the Caribbean (69 years), according to the study.
Thailand leads Asia-Pacific
However, other parts of Asia-Pacific showed signs of progress. In particular, Thailand saw more than half (53%) of top executive positions held by women in 2020.
Those senior executive women it tended to be a mix of international and local talent, particularly within multinational companies in the manufacturing and supply chain sectors.
“What we have is an economy and a market that is moving very fast and looking for talent very aggressively,” Wainwright said.
She added that it was also the result of concerted efforts in recent decades by certain industries, such as manufacturing, to attract and nurture a portfolio of women leaders.
“Now, 20 years later, he’s seen the benefit of that, from people who have really seized the opportunity to enjoy exceptional careers within this industry and really rise to leadership roles within it,” he said.
More women are needed in the upper chair
Still, today very few women occupy the top leadership position, that is, the executive director role.
According to the report, the top three positions held by female senior executives were chief financial officer, chief marketing officer and chief legal officer.
Wainwright described that as the next “breakthrough that must happen” and called on men to be better allies.
“How do we get to that number one seat? That is yet to come,” he said.
“This conversation is about both men and women. They are usually in the positions of greatest influence to make a change, to make a decision.”