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Gender Equality: a spotlight on Northeast Asia

What’s it like being a working woman in Northeast Asia? Having spent the majority of my professional career here working in and with both local as well as international organizations, I’ve observed as many similarities as differences.

Take Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and China - while the historical and cultural intermixing of these countries lends itself to shared norms and values, their cultures are far from identical.

For example, with regards to gender equality, Taiwan ranks 6th out of 163 countries around the world overall and first in Asia, while South Korea, Japan, and China are ranked 15th, 22nd, and 48th, respectively (U.N. Gender Inequality Index).

Here's an example to illustrate these differences: a senior manager at the Taiwanese branch of one of the Big Four accounting firms once described to me with great surprise how he's observed that even at director-level in Seoul, a female employee would still be expected to serve tea for guests (instead of a junior male employee), whereas in Taipei you’d never see this.

Let’s take a look at Taiwan and Japan:

Although these two countries have both experienced rapid economic and demographic changes since WW2, women’s employment opportunities have evolved at remarkably different rates.

Taiwanese women’s employment paths have become increasingly similar to men’s over time, leading to greater gender equality in the labor market in that market. Conversely, changes in Japanese women’s employment careers have been less dramatic and hence less consequential for workplace inequality between men and women. Women’s employment paths in Japan remain distinctively different from men’s.

Despite their similar patterns of economic development, demographic trends, and social norms, women’s employment opportunities have clearly diverged between these two countries. Compared with their Japanese counterparts, Taiwanese women have more equal economic status in relation to men, and they participate in the labor force more continuously.

Back to my experience in Taiwan:

Although there is still room for improvement in the area of DEI regarding gender equality in the workplace, I myself have had a very positive experience working here as a woman. With women accounting for more than 42 percent of legislators (well above the world's average) and a female president, I’ve actually never felt any professional disadvantage here due to my gender. (I'd also like to add, however, that I'm not a standard example as I am clearly a foreigner and from a country that is received very positively here).

I hope that the regional examples and details described above help to illustrate the importance of adapting global DEI strategies to fit the true conditions of local cultures in order to create L&D opportunities that are relevant and truly beneficial.

With International Women’s Day just around the corner, I’d like to summarise by quoting from today's LinkedIn post by C3 Consulting: “When implementing global DEI, you cannot assess situations with a limited, single-culture worldview – you need a NUANCED UNDERSTANDING OF LOCAL CONTEXTS ACROSS COUNTRIES AND CULTURES.”

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