Julia Knight

Thai women in today's workplace

Thailand has an impressive number of females in management positions


Never judge a bank by its staff. I decided last week that sexism and female underrepresentation must be rife in Thailand. And I made that decision whilst waiting patiently for a very pretty female member of staff to assist me. I waited and glanced over at the Bank's manager, who looked bored. We did that awkward thing of looking at each other at the same time and then looking away. By the time I had been served, I was convinced she had only been hired for her looks.

So I did some research and surprised myself with the findings.

Did you know that in 2012, Thailand had the third highest number of women in management positions at 39% compared to 20% in the UK and 17% in the US. The figure is on a slight downward trend but Thailand still eclipses neighbouring Japan who have an astonishingly low rate of just 19%.

According to the International Business Review, female bosses have a positive impact on growth, and companies with female board members outperformed ‘rivals' in terms of returns on invested capital (66% higher) returns on equity (53% higher) and sales (42% higher)'. This has led to female ‘quota' numbers being considered in Europe. Thailand's growth in the last decade can be mirrored in the upward trend of female participation in senior management roles.

In Thailand's political sphere, only 4% of 7,000 political positions in towns and villages are represented by women. This figure rises to 16% in the nation's parliament however this division may be because the economic spoils aren't equally divided across the whole of Thailand and some career choices are still seen as the preserve of men.

The United Nations has been in situ in Bangkok since the 1970s and its effect has been wide-reaching, with the Thai government awarding Equal Rights in 1997 but this isn't obvious in the sexually biased employment adverts. Some argue that the laws around gender bias in areas such as sexual harassment and rape are ambiguous and the law isn't always applied to crimes such as domestic violence. This can be especially true in the provinces where men are still seen as the head of the family and there is a reluctance on the part of the police to intervene in ‘private' matters.

Thailand's greatest achievement for women was the introduction of free education and access for all. Thailand is by large a literate nation with a staggering 92% of its population able to read and write. More boys attend primary education than girls but more girls finish secondary school leaving them far more likely to gain full time employment.

The traditional systems of family support are still evident in Thai society with grandparents living with grandchildren and sharing the childcare duties meaning that perhaps more women are able to work. The cost of childcare is a significant factor for British mothers and this may contribute to less female representation in the work place.

Thailand's low unemployment also contributes to higher female labour participation and this correlates to a higher proportion in senior roles.

Globally, Thailand is well placed alongside its ASEAN neighbours with 15% of CEOs in the region headed by a woman, this drops to 6% in North America. This certainly provides inspiration and aspiration for Thailand's women.

Further reading:

Grant Thornton business report - women in senior management worldwide

United Nations development programme in Thailand

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