Why Europe and the US need to catch up with Asia when it comes to gender equality in the workplace.

By Jacqueline van der Ende (Managing Director & Co-founder, Lamudi Philippines)

As a woman who has made a career in the technology industry and previously in private equity, I am used to being a woman in a man’s world. Within my previous company, I was the only woman in our company of 15 investors. Even the first company I founded with a female friend, De Kleine Consultant, which now has over 100 consultants, is 70% male.

As the Managing Director and Co-Founder of Lamudi Philippines, the fastest growing real estate classifieds platform in the country, I am lucky to lead a team that is equally mixed male and females. Almost half of my 23 person team here is female and no; we aren’t in health care or fashion but in real estate.

Female Emancipation in Asia vs Europe and the US

The high percentage of women in my team reflects the level of emancipation in the Philippines, which I guess in many Asian countries, is much higher than in Europe or the US. What I found most remarkable is that people here, including men, referred to ‘the boss’ as a “she” rather than a “he” which, by default, we use in Europe. It made me realize that part of the glass ceiling we often refer to may be much more in wording than in actual barriers to women moving up the career ladder.

By talking about the boss as a “he” and about the secretary as a “she”, we are setting expectations of where we will end up in life. A boy expects to be a boss someday, while a girl, perhaps an assistant to that boss. Our expectations determine our dreams; our dreams determine our route. I think that if there were more women leaders in business, be it  in technology or real estate industries and whatnot, eventually the boss would end up being sex neutral. Perhaps even a woman, looking at the vast number of talented and driven women moving up the career ladder, would start being more inspired and motivated than ever.

But moving up the career ladder and becoming a leader in really anything, above all, is a choice. Because a woman who wants to be on top will overcome any barrier there might be to end on top. Leadership is having a goal and not having anything stop you to achieve that goal. I personally have not ever experienced any glass ceiling. Never any disadvantage, apart from the occasional incidents.

The Advantages of Being Female

Never have I felt that being a woman in a man’s world has been anything other than an advantage. As a woman, perhaps because of appearances, perhaps because you are something different or perhaps simply because of who you are; you naturally attract attention more than men. Even this, being asked to write about my role as a female leader in a leading blog, would hardly happen as easily for my male counterparts. Even in sales, or perhaps particularly in sales, my male customers would often openly admit that they were willing to meet me particularly because I was a woman. Even though it might be for all the wrong reasons, why should we not use such attention to our advantage and then, sitting at the table, prove ourselves with all the talent we possess.

Collaborating with Male Co-Workers

Working with men perhaps has been easier than working with women. We women are more envious of one another than we might be of our male counterparts. Perhaps it’s a genetic thing. Perhaps we see them more as our competitors than men because men are different anyway. I once read an article on a study asking two groups of students to comment on the exact same profile of a successful person. The only difference was that one group was told this person was a woman and the other  was a man.  The woman was perceived to be more unsympathetic than the man. Those perceptions are not only male perceptions, they are everyone’s. Though we women may remain more envious of one another by nature, having more women role models will help to showcase the great diversity of female leaders and leadership styles.

I welcome initiatives putting female leaders in the spotlight. I also hope they will no longer be needed in the future when being a female leader is nothing newsworthy because you are just one out of many.

The Ultimate Aim: Equal Opportunities

For now, however, it is still a necessity to showcase that women can have dreams as big or bigger than men. That opportunity is not bound by any limits, particularly limits that are  determined by gender. I applaud Sheryl Sandberg, and Marissa Mayer and so many other courageous women setting an example. It doesn’t mean we should all end up like them; but it means we can end up like them. Setting the mind-set of possibility, allowing women to envision themselves being anything they want, including being the boss of a high tech internet company, will help more women get on top.

How is your tech company working towards equal opportunities?