A recent study by the consulting firm Grant Thornton shows increasing numbers of women in Thailand appointed to leadership positions for big businesses.
The numbers are encouraging. For example, the study says that 29% of CEOs in Thailand today are women. This sounds about right for companies based in Bangkok, but I’m not sure if this is true for the companies that I work with in the manufacturing sector. It feels to me that in women make up only 6-7% of CEOS in manufacturing.
For a recent executive vacancy, I did a LinkedIn search for executive level positions in international manufacturing. The search yielded 700 potential candidates in Thailand; only 45 were women. That’s around 6%.
I believe it is important for more women to be included in business leadership positions. As a recruiter I always try to provide clients with female candidates for executive positions, so they can add diversity to their management team.
Although more women are leading Thai manufacturing companies today compared to 20 years ago, I feel the numbers are still too low. Often my clients will specifically request a woman to fill an industry leadership role, but the pool of female candidates in executive positions is small – there aren’t many to choose from.
I have been working with the UK chamber of commerce to build a stronger network among female business leaders in Thailand. I’ve found it challenging to find reliable information and accurate data that breaks down leadership positions according to gender.
To get a clearer picture of women’s progress in the manufacturing industry, I asked a few successful female CEOs in my network to share their opinions about gender diversity in executive leadership. Here’s what they have to say:
General Manager at Penn Color (Thailand).
Early in my career I was looked down on, so I had to strive hard. In 2006, I became the first female site manager for PTTGC. The situation is better now. Female leaders are more accepted, but we do not get equal opportunities. In the general population, there are more females than males. But few of us are in leadership positions.
Female leaders have a more people-oriented style of management. We approach people in a different manner. We know how to motivate our staff, and manage different stakeholders well.
Companies should focus on business capability more than gender. Even if quotas were put in place, I don’t think it will help much with the selection process. I think that women should be encouraged to step outside of their comfort zone. Dare to speak up!
The real reason for under-representation is not because of maternity leave policy. Attitudes are more important. When companies see the advantage of having female leadership, women will become the leaders of the future. Then we won’t need to look at whether there is equal opportunity.
Senior HR Manager for a Global Food Manufacturer
My company has a very strong strategy to support diversity. Globally, the aim is to increase female leadership year by year, and reach a gender diversity target at our regional level of not less than 40%.
What are the benefits to having female leadership?
– Diversity. We look at things from a female’s point of view. We pay attention to details and are generally more cautious when making decisions.
– Passion. We have more passion about developing our careers because we value the opportunity more. I think women have passion to achieve at a high level. When the local culture does not support our growth and development, it drives women to strive even more.
How can we increase representation of women in manufacturing leadership?
– Every organisation may have a diversity policy, but it should have more clarity on targets that include recruitment strategies, talent development programmes, and succession planning to include women.
– CSR programmes, like Women’s Day activities, or other projects initiated by female leaders can build a stage for female executives to have a stronger voice in the organisation.
Supply Chain Manager, Kimball Electronics (Thailand)
Are women under-represented in manufacturing industry leadership?
It’s improving. Earlier in my career, I didn’t think I would get an opportunity for the position I have now, especially for a Japanese company. More women are in leadership positions currently.
How does it help a company to have women in top management positions? What do they bring to the table?
Honesty, accountability. A woman is loyal to her values and beliefs. Businesses should be more open to having female leadership. When the management team has more experience working with female leaders, they will see the benefits.
What policies should companies have in place to support women’s career development?
There needs to be practical guidelines and benchmarks for equal opportunities, not just a stated policy.
Director, Sherwin-Williams Thailand
I don’t think that the number of women in manufacturing is too low. During the last 20-30 years, we have had equal opportunity in Thailand, especially with multinational corporations (MNCs). The Department of Industrial Promotion has encouraged businesses to have more women in leadership positions, so now there is more demand.
Female leadership is more detail-oriented, and especially caring for human resources and people.
Programmes to support more female leadership can help, such as succession planning, a talent management plan, or recruitment plan.
There are some areas where female leaders still struggle: we experience limitations when it comes to building connections with male clients, or entertaining male clients.
Within MNCs, women are well supported and have equal opportunities. Still, within the male-dominated Thai culture, women must strive harder to prove ourselves.
Dr. Pean Pandunchwit,
Managing Director, Dynatec
(PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin)
As a Thai woman working overseas for my entire career, I have struggled with bias against my nationality and gender. Good leadership is not about gender.
A good leader in our industry should have strong knowledge of lean manufacturing, and know how to implement a world class leadership system. They should understand the theory of constraints, and the Kanban inventory management system, so they can solve any problems that arise.
A leader should rely on Data Integrity. When using a system that has been implemented properly, problems will be solved. We need to focus on the bottom line – not on pleasing others. If we put the right system in place first, then the company will succeed, and relationships will improve. If you strive and perform, your colleagues will respect you.
If companies give opportunities for women to step up – equal opportunities, and equal treatment – the company will get better results.
We can see that women in corporate leadership positions must work especially hard in Thailand to gain respect and acceptance from male colleagues.
We need top management to truly encourage diversity and inclusion at the executive level. HR needs to put in place mentoring programmes, succession planning, and recruitment policies to attract more women in C-suite roles.
The journey to reach the top is difficult for women with careers in manufacturing. It’s not just the corporate men’s club we have to struggle with, but also local culture and social attitudes. In Thailand, we need strong support, starting first with our family, to pursue our professional dreams.