Women: The answer to Asia's talent shortage

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Want to boost the effectiveness of your organisation in Asia and meet the demand for talent? Hire from deep but as yet untapped talent pools of women.

This is the view of Piyush Gupta, CEO of DBS Group and former long-term Citi boss, who last week told a well-attended gender diversity forum in Singapore that the best way to deal with the shortage of skills in the region was to hire more women, who are remain under-represented in employment, despite near parity with their male counterparts in terms of education and literacy.

According to a new report by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep), women comprised 44% of the total resident workforce in Singapore in 2012, compared to their male counterparts at 76%. Tafep said half of these women were in professional, managerial, executive and technician (PMET) roles.

At the board level, the gender difference in leadership becomes even more significant, with only 7.3% of board seats in Singapore-listed companies occupied by women in 2011.

Gupta said he did not believe that diversity is about ensuring the boxes are ticked in terms of numbers of female employees, but rather about creating an environment to encourage contributions at an individual level.

He pointed to the representation of women in DBS top leadership structure, saying they held a third of the top management roles. Six of 19 management committee members are female, including chief financial officer Chng Sok Hui and the head of institutional banking, Jeanette Wong. Gupta says that the ambit of their roles gave them significant influence in the business.

The panel speakers at the forum, which was organised by FlexiWerkz and CaliberLink, and sponsored by DBS Bank, also included Yvonne Chia, former CEO of Hong Leong Bank;  Ho Kwon Ping, CEO of Banyan Tree Holdings and Britta Pfister, MD of the Rothschild Trust Group and the first woman to be promoted to a management role in the company.

Chia, who was the first female banking CEO in Malaysia, said a number of conditions were necessary for women to succeed in the work place.

She said any organisation needed to be a meritocracy and have gender-neutral policies in order for women to break through the glass ceiling. “Organisational policies must be right, and the approach needs to start from the top, with the CEO.”

In the right environment, women needed ‘self-belief’ and they should be able to access mentoring and coaching. Her final suggestion was that women should actively network with their peers, and she pointed out that in her experience, the ‘number twos’ in many organisations were often female.

Chia said that while financial services was still a very male dominated industry, “…the diverse strengths of women are very useful in dealing with the challenges in the current working environment.”

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