Noppawan Rakthinkumnerd and Bao Tran Ngo Le
Thammasat University, Thailand

Workforce gender gaps across ASEAN

Pay discrimination, low workforce participation, and lack of representation in senior roles are telling signs of a gender gap. Unfortunately, this remains a recurring conversation across ASEAN, where women are still expected to assume traditional gender roles. The Thailand team of Bao Tran Ngo Le and Noppawan Rakthinkumnerd from Thammasat University and their project “Gender Gaps in the World of Work” focused on identifying the workforce gender gaps across ASEAN and presented opportunities for these to be addressed.

The project won third place in the ASEANDSE 2019 Regional Finals

— a competition by the ASEAN Foundation, in partnership with SAP, that aims to equip ASEAN youth with skill sets that will help them thrive in the digital economy and unleash the region’s full potential. Using SAP Analytics Cloud, the team underlined the statistics that demonstrate how critical the gender gap situation is and how it can be fixed.

Here’s what they found out:

Women not given an equal platform

Research shows that societies with better gender equality experience foster economic growth, as empowered women contribute more to the productivity of their families and communities, creating ripple effects that benefit their nations.
Figure 1
Gender Gaps in the World of Work: SAP Data Story 1

However, much remains to be achieved in ASEAN countries in terms of giving women an equal platform to stand on, as huge disparities between the opportunities made available to males in contrast to females continue to exist. According to the World Bank’s latest report, women’s participation in the labor force has remained low despite significant economic growth, where four out of ten ASEAN countries consistently ranked below the world average (See Figure 1).

Figure 2
Gender Gaps in the World of Work: SAP Data Story 2

In six ASEAN countries, women are less likely to secure employment compared to men

Moreover, women are less likely to enjoy wage and salaried employment
compared to their male counterparts (See Figure 2).


Figure 3
Gender Gaps in the World of Work: SAP Data Story 3
Figure 4
Gender Gaps in the World of Work: SAP Data Story 4

Women in developing countries are expected to handle most of the housework and childcare, which contributes to reduced female participation in the workforce. Evidently, in ASEAN, females are more engaged in unpaid domestic duties (See Figure 4).

Figure 5
Gender Gaps in the World of Work: SAP Data Story 5

The more time women spend on unpaid domestic work, the less likely they are to join the workforce. And even if they do seek out employment opportunities, many tend to leave work due to increasing pressure to focus on domestic responsibilities (See Figure 5).

Figure 6
Gender Gaps in the World of Work: SAP Data Story 6

Despite the region’s economic progress and more women seeking higher education, the number of women in decision-making roles continues to trail men. One factor that it can be attributed to is that heavy industries like manufacturing dominate the Asian’ corporate sector, where men have more representation in the boardroom (See Figure 6).

Figure 7
Gender Gaps in the World of Work: SAP Data Story 7

Gender inequalities in entrepreneurship and labor force participation also negatively affect economic development, resulting in GDP losses (See Figure7). According to the United Nations, women’s economic empowerment will not only boost the country’s productivity but will also increase economic diversification and income equality. When women enjoy income satisfaction, they are more likely to participate in the marketplace and exercise their higher purchasing powers, contributing up to $25 trillion to global GDP.

Aside from wage discrimination, occupational segregation, and social and cultural attitudes, women are also subjected to workplace harassment that inhibits them from entering the market and staying. For married women, the situation is far worse as they tend to retreat to their domestic duties: they typically possess narrower networks of working individuals that would otherwise be connections for available work.

Bridging the Gap

This is not to say that ASEAN countries are not working towards reversing this trend. In 2010, the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and the Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) was formed to uphold the rights within the Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (CEDAW). The commission’s mandate is to encourage every ASEAN member state to collect and analyse sex-disaggregated data and make the necessary policy and national legislation changes that would alleviate the plight of children and women

—including economic insecurity. 

As such, ASEAN countries are working together with the United Nations to close these gender gaps in fulfilment of the UN’s Gender Equality Goal under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


One of the solutions the Thailand team proposed is to promote equal participation in domestic tasks which can be campaigned through the following:

  • Curriculum integration
  • Training
  • Family and community engagement
  • Reform policies on parental leave
  • Build a gender-friendly work environment
  • Supportive plans for women in and out of the workplace

Government involvement will also play a key role in shifting the trend, starting off by implementing transparency in labor policies spanning multiple sectors. ASEAN governments should consider publicizing data on salary ranges for each gender and sanction companies who impose disproportionate income and employment disparities without justified reasons. 

Figure 8
Gender Gaps in the World of Work: SAP Data Story 8

ASEAN countries can look to Europe for example. In 2006, Denmark passed a wage transparency legislation that required companies with more than 35 employees to report on gender pay gaps. Based on this study, the legislation not only narrowed the wage gap between Danish men and women, but it also increased the supply pool of female talent and the promotion of women to more senior positions. It also contributed to lower overall wage bills, as the legislation slowed down the unprecedented growth of male wages in contrast to their female colleagues (See Figure 8).

Accessible and safe platforms where women can voice their opinions and grievances should also be designed. 

Preparing women, especially those who hail from impoverished rural and urban communities, for short and long-term labor force participation is also one viable solution.

Short-term labor is usually associated with freelancing and the gig economy, and information drives regarding what’s available for women will allow them to thrive in this.


On the other hand, providing digital literacy, promoting female entrepreneurship, offering vocational training and mentorship programs for women will prepare them for long-term employment.


Establishing proper laws and abolishing discriminatory mindsets are the only ways to eradicate gender gaps in ASEAN and fully realise women’s potential in the workplace. Young girls should be given access to quality education and equal opportunities to further their studies as opposed to encouraging them to leave school to raise a family. 


Gender Equity Movement in Schools (GEMS), an initiative by the International Center for Research on Women, explores the potential of school-based curriculums to influence the formation of norms that promote gender equality among adolescents. The program made prominent results in Mumbai and several regions in Vietnam.


According to the UN, investing in education programmes for girls, as well as increasing the age at which they should consider marriage, will result in a five-fold return. 


Female-friendly government and company policies should also be in place to enable married female employees to strike a balance between building their careers and homemaking. By doing so, more women will be encouraged to try their hands at aiming for higher roles within their organisations without fear of losing in their family life. 

When all of these are taken into consideration, ASEAN women will undoubtedly take their rightful places in driving their countries’ economies.

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