Fighting gender stereotypes in the boardrooms of Asia

Kate Oh (left), Atika Malik and Pully Chau

Kate Oh (left), Atika Malik and Pully Chau

Imagine being a woman waiting for three years while your employer tried and rejected several mostly male rivals for the senior executive position for which you are the most qualified.

Being overlooked because you are Asian and female was among the injustices Pully Chau, group CEO at Cheil Greater China, cited during yesterday’s panel called Awaken The Lioness: The Battle Front Of Asian Women.

Chau was discussing the need to dispel stereotypes of Asian women as either young and sexy or dutiful frumpy housewives, during a debate with two equally influential female executives: Cheil India’s COO Atika Malik and Cheil Worldwide CCO Kate Oh.

Oh said there had been improvements in the industry. For example, recent new recruits at Cheil Worldwide comprised 85% women. “But there is still an uphill battle.”

Although more than half of Chinese students are women, less than 10% of directors on publicly listed companies are female.

Malik said the proportion of women on corporate boards in India was about 11% — although that is because of mandatory statutory requirements. In South Korea, the share plummets to only 2.1%, compared to 17% at Cheil Worldwide, Oh said.

All three speakers, however, agreed developments taking place in Asia’s media and marketing businesses made them optimistic. “We’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel with ad campaigns breaking away from stereotyping,” Oh said.

“It is our duty to lead and inspire social change,” Chau added. “We should make more positive and radical changes to make this industry hear more diverse voices.”

Harriet Palmer