Closing the gender gap in Asia Pacific: How can we make progress?

Today, society has made commendable progress on the road to achieving socio-economic gender parity. We have much to be optimistic about with women in developing markets: the 2016 Mastercard Index of Women’s Advancement revealed that more women than men enroll in tertiary education in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.


Georgette Tan gives celebratory remarks at the opening of the GEM-Tech Awards 2016 ceremony in Bangkok, Thailand.

However, Asian nations have a long way to go before they can close the gender gap. While women in the region shine in terms of capability, often outperforming their male counterparts, the proportion of women in the workforce is consistently lower than that of men across the region.

This gap is especially apparent in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) sector, a dominion long held by men. According to Mastercard’s inaugural “Girls in Tech” research, one in every five girls in Asia Pacific recognize a level of gender bias in STEM careers, which, together with  a lack of interest, is a key reason preventing more girls from pursuing STEM-related subjects in school.

Public-private partnerships are key

So, what can be done to resolve this persistent paradox? Strong partnerships between the private and public sector is key. While governments and policymakers can help to close the gender gap by enforcing equality legislation and education policies, private stakeholders must do their part by making women’s advancement a business imperative.

A keen champion of women in STEM, Mastercard has rolled out the Girls4Tech program across the region to inspire young girls to develop their STEM skills and build the future generation of female STEM talent. More than 5,000 girls and 1,000 Mastercard employee mentors have participated in the Girls4Tech program in 11 countries including Singapore, India and Australia.

RELATED: How can we close the digital gender gap? Read the special edition of ITU News Magazine.

To help governments and industry partners better understand and play stronger roles in driving women’s advancement, we conduct comprehensive research on factors affecting opportunities for women to carry out STEM, business or leadership related ventures. Studies from our suite of research properties include the Mastercard Index of Women’s Advancement, Women’s Entrepreneurial Index and “Girls In Tech” research.

These are just some of the initiatives Mastercard has as part of our commitment to close the gender gap, not just in STEM, but also in the Asia Pacific region as a whole. Earlier this year, we joined UN Women’s HeForShe movement to show our support for a representative workforce that supports women so they can break the glass ceiling. We see it as a great opportunity not just to support the advancement of women in our business, but equality in our wider communities as well.

Most recently, we are proud to have sponsored the GEM-TECH Awards, for Gender Equality Mainstreaming in Technology, jointly organized by ITU and UN Women to celebrate the outstanding work being done to promote the empowerment of women and girls through information and communication technology (ICT), and to bridge the gender digital divide.

Georgette Tan

Georgette Tan is Senior Vice President, Communications for the Asia Pacific region at Mastercard. In this role, she is responsible for external and internal communications and corporate social responsibility throughout this region. In 2005, she helped launch an index that specifically measures women’s socio-economic advancement in the region.

Prior to joining Mastercard, Ms. Tan worked at CNBC Asia, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board. She currently serves on the Executive Committee of the National Committee for UN Women Singapore where she is co-founder for the award-winning Project Inspire initiative.

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