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In my 10 years living in Vietnam, I’ve been involved in numerous discussions on the workforce, how it has evolved and transformed to accommodate the country’s industrialisation. Occasionally the issues of gender equality arise. From the corner pho seller to the construction worker and powerful business leaders, women make up slightly more than half of the Vietnamese workforce. It is also interesting to note how they have tackled their career barriers over the years.


Vietnam’s Road to Gender Equality


We often use the term ‘the glass ceiling’ when talking about gender inequality in the workforce. This is the barrier between women and the high-level executive positions they’re trying to get; prized jobs may be out of a woman’s reach due to various forms of gender discrimination. Over the past decade, Vietnamese women have started to crack through, as evidenced by the fact that Vietnam has the highest rate of women participating in the economy within the region. Women also work across different levels and industries, from the services sector such as banking, finance and trade services through to the manufacturing sector including textiles, footwear and processing, all of which have a high export turnover.


On another encouraging note, Vietnam has one of the highest percentage of women at senior management levels. After Thailand, Philippines, Poland and China, in Vietnam 33 percent of people at board level are female. In addition, Vietnamese women receive increasing levels of support for their role in the economy. This is shown by the many prizes honouring entrepreneurs and enterprises on a national level, with some specifically for female leaders — the Vietnam Gold Star Award, the Golden Rose Cup, Vietnam Women Awards and so on.


However, Vietnamese women still have issues accessing higher education and there is a lack of employment opportunities together with discriminatory attitudes and behaviours. Women continue to earn less than men across different economic sectors with a differential pay gap of around 80 percent to 87 percent of that of men.




Even with all these obstacles, more and more women aspire to step up and go for the jobs they want. Yet, ensuring the inclusion of women’s talents, skills and energies — from executive offices to the factory floor and the supply chain — requires intentional actions and deliberate policies. While companies are encouraged to take part in gender equality measures by offering equal pay, childcare facilities and equal job opportunities, there are four things women themselves can do:


1) Stop being afraid. Being confident in their skills and abilities is the key for women to get ahead, and there’s nothing wrong in showing that you can do their job well, or even better than men do. There will be a time when you feel overwhelmed by the need to juggle work and personal life, but instead of giving up, try to speak up for the support you need — the response may surprise you!


2) Get a mentor. The barriers you’re facing today have likely been around for a long time. A mentor can help you learn to get connected to the information and people who can help you as well as be a great source of ideas for your professional development.


3) Get your seat at the table. The way to get ahead is to get noticed. You want people to see your competence. If you want to be in the top level, you need to build a reputation as the kind of person who fits that description of the top level. Therefore, it is important to speak up and contribute at the meetings, get involved in high-profile projects (they are not ‘extra work’, but valuable learning experiences and an opportunity to showcase your capabilities) and develop plans to improve yourself.


4) Make your partner a partner. It is particularly difficult for women in Vietnam to pursue a demanding career while ‘having it all’ at home. Thus, it is necessary to share domestic responsibilities with your partner and while doing so, you need to stop controlling the way your partner does those jobs. Focus, instead, on the balance that works.


Gender equality and the glass ceiling may seem at times more of a concept or topic for discussion than a real ‘thing’. However, with the number of Vietnamese ladies who have stepped up and are now successfully running large corporations like Vinamilk and REE, I’m starting to believe that in a near future a quote of Sheryl Sandberg’s: “There will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”


Nicola Connolly is the general director of Adecco Vietnam and chairwoman of the European Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam. For more information on how women can break through the glass ceiling, follow the Adecco presentation here: http://www.slideshare.net/AdeccoVietnam/adecco-vietnam-knowledge-sharing-breaking-the-glass-ceiling

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Nicola Connolly

Country Manager of Adecco Vietnam and co-founder of the Vietnam Employment Agencies Federation, Nicola Connolly has been in Vietnam for 10 years and is highly respected within Vietnam’s HR community. When she’s not actively lobbying the government on positive changes in the country’s employment legislation, Nicola enjoys spending her time reading or watching her favourite TV shows. You can follow her on: twitter.com/nicolaconnolly33

Website: www.adecco.com.vn

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