Top Asian female execs feel trapped in regional roles: Poll

Many Asian senior women business leaders with global aspirations feel trapped in regional roles at the multinational corporations that employ them, a new study has found.

About 90 per cent of these executives are keen to take on global roles but only 36 per cent feel "somewhat confident" they will get the opportunity.

The study, by United States-based consultancy Heidrick & Struggles, said the findings were a reminder that multinationals should "take notice of women leaders as an untapped resource for global roles". The firm polled 138 Asian senior female executives in Singapore, India, Hong Kong, Japan and China from May to December last year.

"Although there has been a focus on subjects such as women on boards and the development of the local female workforce, the research reveals the difficulties of mid- to senior-level Asian female leaders who are limited to regional roles," noted Hong Kong-based Alain Deniau, a partner of Heidrick & Struggles. He called the issue "the biggest glass ceiling" faced by women in this part of the world.

The survey found that 54 per cent of the women executives polled believe the lack of global opportunities was due to their ethnic background, while 47 per cent felt their gender was the main obstacle. As a result, a staggering 85 per cent of the women surveyed are considering leaving their current company in the next two years.

Heidrick & Struggles said as more companies move their global headquarters to Asia, this is a good opportunity for women executives to take on global responsibilities. "This requires a shift in mentality for headquarters leaders and must align with performance appraisal systems that indicate the path to global roles," said Singapore-based Karen Choy-Xavier, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles.

Nearly half of the respondents felt that leaders at headquarters do not pay enough attention to developing Asian women.

Only 4 per cent of the female executives listed capabilities and skill sets as a barrier to landing global roles.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2017, with the headline 'Top Asian female execs feel trapped in regional roles: Poll'. Print Edition | Subscribe