Women are increasingly found in managerial positions in Vietnam despite lingering views on their traditional role in society.
“Men make houses, women make homes”. This old phrase describing the traditional roles of men and women in Vietnamese society may have to be changed to “Men make houses, women make both houses and homes” given the nature of modern life. Most women have jobs these days and share in contributing financially to their family. Furthermore, increasing numbers of women now play a key role in their organization or enterprise.
Vietnamese women have traditionally stayed at home to do the housework and take care of the children, and if they hoped to venture out into the workforce were only encouraged to work at State-owned enterprises. This simple employment allowed the family to remain as their top priority and be that which takes most of their time and effort.
Nowadays, women account for nearly half of Vietnam’s workforce and have jobs in a range of sectors that were previously dominated by men, such as business, information technology, and construction. And the number of female leaders is certainly on the rise. According to a new study by the International Labor Organization (ILO), Vietnam ranked 76th out of 108 countries and territories in the proportion of women managers, at 23 per cent; a slight improvement over recent years. The proportion of female CEOs in Vietnam is also high, at 7 per cent, compared to the global average of only 5 per cent or less. The share of Vietnamese women in the “leaders, managers and administrators” category increased 0.6 per cent in 2011 and 0.5 per cent in 2012, bringing the total to 24.4 per cent in 2013, according to the latest Vietnam Labour Force Survey of Vietnam’s workforce. The survey also showed that women own and manage over 29.5 per cent of all businesses, albeit primarily small and micro enterprises.
The image of Vietnamese women as solely housewives has long become outdated, given their improved education and access to good job opportunities afforded by integration and globalization, according to Ms. Thien Huong, Deputy Manager of the Outbound Department at Vinatour. “If people still followed the traditional way, where women stay at home to look after their children, the world would lack a very important human resource,” she said. A woman’s participation in business negotiation, she believes, often makes them more interesting and more efficient. “The natural softness of women is always an advantage,” she said.
As women are more cautious and pay more attention to “safety” than men, because of the natural instinct of a mother to protect their children, they are also better at risk management, according to Ms. Minh Huong, Chairwoman of the Board of Management at VNDirect Securities JSC.
Of a similar mind, Ms. Thu Thuy, Chairwoman and CEO of VinE-Com, part of the Vingroup, of which she is a former CEO, said that the success of Vietnamese women in leadership roles may stem from the skills in management passed on from their mothers, which they themselves acquired during Vietnam’s wartime past when the men went off to fight. Women then became leaders of their families and had to balance many tasks at the same time, such as earning a living, taking care of the children, and managing the family finances. The idea for Vincom Mega Mall’s entertainment zone came to her because, as a mother, she knew there were few places for families and children to relax in Hanoi.
Women’s successful participation in economic activities is also the result of their own efforts at being independent and reflects their desire and ability to affirm themselves and contribute to their family and society. Ms. Minh Huong said that when she was an employee she always had a desire to run her own business. She tried to learn as much as she could and then decided to go out on her own. “Gradually, from a very small company I made it bigger,” she said. “The more I do the more passion I have. I’m proud of it.”
The increasing number of management positions held by women is also a positive sign for gender equity in Vietnam. Ms. Van Anh from the Institute of Sociology said that Vietnamese women must strive to maintain the gender equality they have, and this is a constant battle fought by women around the world.
Despite this level of gender equality, however, behind the success of many women are a great many difficulties.
In order to be successful, according to Ms. Thien Huong, a businesswoman in Vietnam must work nearly twice as hard as her male counterparts. “In Vietnam, modern women still have to deal with many prejudices and social norms, as family is always the most important thing in their life,” she said. “Children and housework are considered women’s work, so many men never help their wives.”
Agreeing, Ms. Minh Huong said that some of her good female employees have refused promotions, preferring instead to stay in a low position that didn’t involve longer hours. “They say they want to spend more time with their family,” she said. “Their husband’s success and their children growing up is what they consider to be their success.”
Many young women have worked for private or foreign companies in good positions with handsome salaries, but after having children have quit to find a less time-consuming job. “If a woman can both go to work and do the housework and take care of the children, their monthly income should be viewed as including the salary of a housemaid,” said Ms. Van Anh. “But everybody just looks at this as if it’s the natural duty of a woman.” Women still meet difficulties in getting equal opportunities for jobs and promotions because of their natural responsibilities as a wife and mother. Many companies require new female staff commit to waiting at least two years before having children, while some job criteria clearly state that male candidates are preferred.
Despite all of the difficulties, though, the number of female managers is increasing every year and most receive due recognition for their efforts and contributions.