Years on, and women are still not fairly represented in leadership. Here's what we need to do to bridge the gap.
Our data is clear – women are a minority in leadership and the needle hasn’t moved much on these numbers over the last seven years. Globally, today, less than a third (32%) of leadership positions are held by women. In 2016, women made up 31% of leadership positions worldwide. In APAC, female representation in leadership is varied but consistently less than 50% – Singapore is one of the leading countries in leadership representation, with 42% representation, followed by Australia (33%) and India (18%).
Even in sectors where women are better represented in entry level roles, there are still fewer women in leadership. This may allude to the biases that women face as they progress up the career ladder. While women make up 68% of the workforce in the Hospital & Healthcare industry in Australia, there are fewer women in leadership – 52%. While that number might seem high, given it’s more than 50%, it is only three quarters of the representation overall for that industry. In India, the highest representation of women is in the Education sector, with 29% representation in leadership, compared to 39% representation in the workforce. The Technology, Information & Media industry shows gaps in all countries considered, in Singapore 44% of the tech workforce is women, while only 35% of Director-level positions and above are held by women.
The biggest drop off in female representation on the career ladder often happens at the transition between ‘Senior contributor’ and ‘Manager’. In all the countries analysed in APAC, that transition is the first to show a significant leak in the pipeline to leadership. In Singapore, representation drops from 51% at senior contributor level to 46% at manager level; in Australia, it drops from 48% to 40%; and in India, from 30% to 19%. This highlights the importance of addressing biases through targeted mentoring programs and effective bias awareness training for hirers and managers. It’s also important to look at hiring for skills which can level the playing field for women, and developing female talent to help them grow within an organisation.
The measures we take to even the playing field for women in the workforce is particularly important in sectors that consistently reflect fewer women. For example, women are scarcely represented in AI and time will only exacerbate existing inequity if we leave this unchecked. In 2022, women made up 36% of the AI talent in Singapore, 31% of the AI talent in Australia, and 29% of the AI talent in India. In other words, there are twice as many men in AI than there are women. Not only women are underrepresented in the Technology, Information and Media industry overall, but within this industry there are even fewer women in rapidly growing sectors like AI and in leadership roles.
If we were to hire for relevant skills instead of looking for candidates who held the same job title in the past, female representation in the workforce would improve. When hiring for skills, the global talent pool would expand by 24% more for women than for men, especially in jobs where women are especially underrepresented. In APAC, LinkedIn data shows that skill-based hiring causes a 32% difference in Australia, 29% difference in India, and 10% difference in Singapore. For example, only 15% of ‘System Engineers’ in India are women. If companies were to hire candidates based on relevant skills, rather than on their prior job title, the talent pool would increase by 10x for men, but by 15x for women. What this tells us is that the lack of female representation in certain jobs might not be due to a shortage of women with fitting skills, but instead it might be caused by biases propagated by hiring based on direct experience.
While many gaps remain, some progress has been made. The share of women hired into leadership has improved, despite some set-backs observed during the pandemic. Since 2016, the share of women hired into leadership positions has increased by 6 percentage points in Australia, 5 in India, 5 in Singapore.
Aside from dealing with biases and focusing on skills, initiatives such as remote work can encourage higher female representation. For example, in January 2023, in India, women were 19% more likely to apply to a remote job than men. In Australia, women used to be more likely than men to apply to a remote job – with a peak 9% difference in Oct 2021. Singapore, instead, is one of the few countries where men are more likely to apply to a remote job than women are, perhaps because more women have support for family-care commitments. Competition to secure remote jobs will continue to be fierce – remote job postings have been declining, while applications are still high (read more about remote jobs trends in Singapore, Australia, and India). Increased adoption and acceptance of flexible work arrangements across more companies can go a long way towards encouraging better gender representation. However, we must ensure flexibility is the standard for everyone. Else, while trying to close the gap, we might deepen the burden of care for women.
Our data aims to shed light on the gender disparities that exist in the workplace in the Asia Pacific region and beyond, and in so doing, help identify solutions that may address bias and promote diversity, starting from fair hiring practices – including hiring for skills, and creating opportunities for women to advance to leadership – to offering policies like flexible work. By advancing our understanding of existing, and projected, inequalities, we can build a future where everyone has access to economic opportunity.