The Five Secrets of Success for Women in Asia
When Newsweek ranked the best countries for women in its September 26 issue, only one Asian country, the Philippines, made the top twenty. Among the worst 20 countries were Afghanistan, Pakistan and Solomon Islands as well as a slew of countries in Africa.
That Asia got such relatively low marks isn't surprising to women trying to get ahead in many Asian countries. While women can find the kind of household help not found in the West, thus easing work/life issues, general attitudes and pay often lag behind. A Pew Research Center study found 84% of those surveyed in India believe men have more right to a job when positions are scarce. In South Korea, 60% agreed.
That attitude is almost unheard of in the U.S., where 14% agreed that men deserve jobs ahead of women, and in Britain, where 12% agreed, according to the Pew survey.
Navigating such biases is tricky. Success depends on the particular country -- places like Singapore are easier -- as well as a woman's sensitivity to what does and doesn't work.
Nonetheless a career in the fast growing economies of Asia can be exhilarating. Women FINS talked to had five main pointers for making it work.
Be Less Blunt
In Western cultures, you may have no problem telling your boss exactly what you think of a how a project's going. In Asia, it pays to soften your delivery and your rhetoric, keeping in a mind a concept called "giving face," said Alison Lester, a Singapore-based communication skills coach who gives workshops at firms such as RBS Coutts and Goldman Sachs.
"Giving face" means not calling out someone on their errors in public, or shaming them in front of their colleagues or questioning them too aggressively. "
If it sounds like that advice could apply equally to men and women, that's correct. But women especially need to be aware of how they come across, especially in more conservative countries like Japan and Korea, where attitudes toward women in positions of power aren't as evolved as in other Asian countries.
To defeat those biases, Western women can reconfigure their image and tone when it comes to presentations, negotiations and meetings with their superiors.
Still Ask for What You Want
Whether you're in Beijing or Boston, you should expect to be paid what you're worth. Women who move to Asia can expect the same issues that occur in Western countries, like receiving lower salaries for doing the same work as men.
Salaries for women in management accountant roles across Asia, for example, are significantly lower than their male counterparts, according to "Reflections from Asia Pacific Leaders: Strategies for Career Progression," a November 2010 study from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), a London-based global member association for management accountants.
The report found that male CIMA members earn 51% more than female members in Malaysia and 47% more in Sri Lanka. The discrepancy can be attributed both to women's hesitation to ask for a pay raise as well as outdated attitudes, said Sandra Rapacioli, research and development manager at CIMA.
Build Your Network
Networking is important everywhere, but in Asia, it's crucial.
In Singapore, "everyone knows everyone and the network is very dense," said Lenka Snajdrova, an executive at Morgan Stanley from the Czech Republic who moved to Singapore two years ago. "Before I came here I had nothing to do with Asia and it's a setback. If you're in a high position and you need to know people to call, not having the connections can hurt you."
To expand networks, women should develop a wide net of social contacts, including industry groups, women's business organizations, alumni associations and community groups.
Focus on Work/Life Balance
If you have a family, plan to work as hard or harder in Asia when it comes to balancing your personal and professional lives.
Working around time zones on the other side of the globe is expected and needs to be "managed as best as possible," says Monique Ritacca-Herena, senior vice president and chief personnel officer for PepsiCo Asia, Middle East and Africa. That means being available for important meetings if they require travel, and also taking part in conference calls or video meetings, even if they're occurring at 2 a.m. your time.
Fortunately, home child-care is extremely affordable in places such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Many homes in Singapore, for example, are built with a room to accommodate an "amah," or a live-in caretaker and housekeeper. On average, it costs about $600 Singaporean dollars, or $460 U.S. dollars, to employ an amah for one month, according to XpatXperience, a website for expatriates living in Singapore. In New York City, it can cost the same amount to employ a live-in per week, according to 4nannies.com, an online nanny resource.
Don't Be Afraid to Be a Woman
Above all, behave like a woman. Asian cultures support leaders who are open to collaboration and put an emphasis on strong interpersonal relationships.
"Women should capitalize on the qualities that they are naturally blessed with," like being sensitive and consultative, said Lim Chye Lian, Singapore-based Managing Director and Founder of global executive search firm Executive Talent International. "The mistake would be to try too hard and emulate the male gender, especially in a male-dominated work environment."
But don't forget to adhere to your own identity. Karen Dalgleish, a Singapore-based, 45-year-old director of Borrowed Brains, a company that connects experts to various client projects, doesn't think ex-pats should go overboard in trying to be deferential. "I don't believe in changing yourself to become so Asian that they don't know whether you're different from them or not," she said.
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