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Men Champion Women’s Rights in UN’s HeForShe Movement

Forget about battle of the sexes. Gender equality in the workplace is all about levelling the playing field and creating a better corporate landscape for all.

To he who thinks that promoting gender equality in the workplace is not his business – and that it works to his disadvantage as it increases the chances of a woman taking his job – Ho Ren Hua has this to say: You should be worried about your job being taken by anyone, regardless of gender.

The 33-year-old executive director of Banyan Tree would know something about gender equality; he is the son of power couple Ho Kwon Ping and Claire Chiang – the latter being a social activist and entrepreneur. Both are founders of Banyan Tree Group and also influential figures in society, and inculcated in him a strong sense of equality since young. “My parents also place importance on merit and potential – and these values resonate strongly today. In my last five years with Banyan Tree China, I recruit, groom and promote solely on those criteria, which are gender-neutral.”

Ho was recently appointed as the first male board member for United Nations Women Singapore, which champions the HeForShe campaign. The global solidarity movement launched in September 2014 urges men to promote gender equality through standing up as advocates for women’s rights. “Philosophically, the movement is about equality for male and females, rather than a case of saying who is better,” emphasises Ho.

Yet the issue of gender equality is more than a topic of morality. Gender equality also contributes to progress on many levels. As part of the HeForShe campaign’s pilot programme “Impact 10x10x10”, political leaders were engaged to pledge their commitment to the movement. They include President of Indonesia Joko Widodo, who has implemented bold changes such as a quota law for women in Parliament to reach at least 30 per cent, and Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has submitted a Bill requiring public-sector institutions and companies to develop action plans increasing the representation and participation of women. Japan will also champion initiatives such as increasing the capacity of nursery schools and enhancing childcare-leave policies as part of a comprehensive package of solutions to empower Japanese women.

As Widodo points out on the official site of HeForShe, women represent half of the drivers and beneficiaries of development. And this applies at all levels. Within the corporate world, companies are also recognising the fact that gender diversity gives them strategic advantage. Edmund Lin, the global head of financial services for global management consulting firm Bain & Company, says: “Successful businesses need women to grow – you simply can’t grow if you’re not attractive to 50 per cent of the population.”

A “Women at Bain” programme is a multi-faceted approach to develop and retain female leaders in the firm. Lin cites flexible models – including working part-time without having to move into a different role, which helps support women and, in many cases, men – to help staff thrive. But more than just having a comprehensive suite of programmes and policies, developing a culture that believes in the importance of diversity is paramount. Which is why Bain & Co’s global leadership teams make it a point to discuss the latest research on gender parity and what that implies for the company as a whole.

The husband of Trina Liang-Lin, who is the managing director of boutique investment consultancy Templebridge Investments and president of the Singapore Committee for UN Women, sees his wife as an equal partner. “I believe marriages are partnerships – so I won’t say that either of us have had to make sacrifices. I am extremely proud of my wife’s career and have always supported her in her endeavours, just as she has supported me in mine,” says Lin.

And this mutual support is exactly what is needed for a more competitive corporate landscape that offers both genders a level playing field. Lin believes that such a change will benefit men. He says: “Many of the programmatic or cultural changes don’t just benefit women – men can also benefit from flexible working models or other programmes, and certainly from a culture that focuses on championing others and helping them to envision success.

“It comes down to the fact that both men and women need to believe that this is important – and be willing to act accordingly – to really accelerate change.”

A Woman’s World?

Not Quite. Quick numbers that reveal there is much work still to be done to create a level playing field.

8.8% Women’s representation on SGX-listed company boards as at the end of 2014. Though a 10 per cent increase from the year before, this figure is lower than those of other international financial markets such as India (10.6 per cent), Malaysia (10.2 per cent) and China (13.2 per cent).

US$774 millionCombined market value (as of March 2015) of women-led companies within the top 100 of Fortune’s list, equal to S$1 billion. The Fortune 500 companies account for US$17 trillion in market value.

2XHow much the percentage of women in Parliament around the world has increased by, from 11.3 per cent in 1995 to 22 per cent in August in 2015.

22Number of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies led by women. Women make up about half of S&P500’s workforce.

35%Percentage of male directors who think that it is important to have women on corporate boards.

4:1 Ratio of men to women in legislatures around the world.

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