Equal for Equal: Can Myanmar’s tech sector leapfrog to gender diversity?
Myanmar has leapfrogged several technology steps and boasts some of Asia’s fastest 4G networks. Would the country be ready to do a similar leap towards gender diversity, fueled by a progressive tech sector?
Female graduates in Myanmar are pursuing computer science courses at a rate that far exceeds their male counterparts. Around 70% of the 3,000 graduates from the country’s 25 computer universities are women. Many find work in the IT sector at a time when agile ways of working and cross-functional collaboration are gaining ground globally. Will these forces come together to accelerate Myanmar’s progress towards gender diversity in the workplace?
As an HR leader in Myanmar’s tech sector, I see signs that could be cause for optimism. In Telenor Myanmar, around 40% of our workforce are women and close to 30% of our leaders are female. Introducing Telenor Group’s global 6 month maternity leave policy has encouraged new mothers in our ranks to return to work when they are ready to do so, without fearing loss of continued career growth.
However, no country is without challenges in gender diversity or inclusion. Still, women both in Myanmar and elsewhere experience that it is harder to move ahead because of who they are, not because of what they contribute. Biases, either conscious or unconscious, remain steadfast both in the private and public spheres.
In the Nordic countries, where Telenor has its roots and where gender diversity has been high on the agenda for years, there are still far fewer female CEOs than male. Women leaders in business are few and far between, especially outside the traditional domains of women in business: HR, communication and law. In the public sector, however, women have proven themselves as leaders with currently 4 of 5 Nordic Prime Ministers being female.
Despite the strong influx of women in Myanmar’s tech sector, it is still a male-dominant field where prejudices against women and stereotyping is widespread. This is also reflected in a recent IFC survey on Myanmar people’s preconceptions regarding women as business executives, where 71% believe men make better executives than women. This can partially be explained by the relatively low participation of women in the total workforce: only 51% of Myanmar women currently in the workforce, compared to 80% of men. Only 1 in 4 small and medium firms are owned by women, and only 3 out of the 100 largest Myanmar companies are run by female CEOs.
Myanmar has a perfect opportunity to better balance its workforce, by learning from best practice in markets that have struggled with similar challenges for centuries. The technology sector seems well positioned because of its strong growth potential, its global nature and its largely progressive outlook.
When the Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industries, as well as the Minister of Equality and Families, invited business leaders for a seminar to share best practices and ideas for promoting greater gender diversity in businesses, a list of seven key tactics were presented. The rules are based on common sense and proven tactics from a number of European countries, and could serve as a blueprint also for Myanmar.
The seven tactics are:
1. Take responsibility — diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a question of long-term competitiveness and is the responsibility of top management.
2. Have good plans — if left to chance, change will not happen. The best performers who are able to capitalize on the gender dividend have clear plans that are followed up.
3. Measure progress — what gets measured, gets done. Good intentions isn’t enough if the ambitions are not translated to measurable targets.
4. Address recruitment — the way we communicate in hiring processes can be critical to whether we’re able to attract and engage a more diverse talent base. It can start with something as basic as how recruitment ads are written or illustrated.
5. Build talents — to stay and thrive in the organization, talents must experience that they are seen and invested in. This can include coaching and mentorship, as well as most importantly: exposing a diverse set of talents for new and hard challenges on the job.
6. Facilitate diversity — balancing work and life is not about having more time off, but about making the work situation flexible enough to be able to balance responsibilities both at home and at work. This is important for men and women alike.
7. Take societal responsibility — companies have a responsibility to build capabilities and nurture a business environment where talented people have opportunities to build a career and contribute to building the nation, regardless of their background, age, gender or disabilities. We see this as part of our mission in Myanmar.
Telenor Myanmar remains committed to help develop the country’s rapidly developing tech sector, and we are proud to do so with a competent and diverse workforce. Our efforts towards a more balanced workforce are far from over. On the International Women’s Day 2020 we greet the women and men of Myanmar. Diversity and inclusion is a responsibility we all share, and we’re ready to do our part.
Selina Lomholdt is the Chief People Officer at Telenor Myanmar. She has more than 20 years’ experience from HR and People Development, and has served in HR leadership roles in Telenor Denmark, Dell and Radisson SAS Hotels.