Women across the globe face key challenges to equality

Chloe ChambraudChloe Chambraud, Business in the Community Gender Research & Policy Manager, reports on the challenges being experienced by women in countries as diverse as themselves in leveraging true equality. 


By 2020, it is estimated that the economies of the E7 – China, Brazil, India, Mexico, Russia, Indonesia and Turkey – will be larger than the G7. This growth has brought with it a number of positive shifts in terms of gender diversity in the workplace. Nevertheless, major challenges remain which continue to see female talent undervalued and underleveraged. Last month, Unilever, winner of last year’s Global Diversity Award hosted a Peer Learning Forum to explore some of the key challenges women are facing in these countries.


Group of ethnically diverse women students in university robes






Credit: Flickr 2


Women in emerging markets are educated, ambitious and committed.
Over half of the college graduates are now women and the rate of women aged over 25 with a Bachelor’s degree has increased at a faster rate than men in many countries 1.

80% or more of women in Brazil and India aspire to hold a top job.3

The first study of its kind launched by the Harvard Business Review and surveying more than 4,000 graduates found that 85% of Indian women and more than 60% of Chinese and Russian women consider themselves very ambitious compared to a mere 36% of US women. They also feel very committed to the organisation they work for with more than 80% of respondents in Brazil, Russia and India loving their work, and a similarly high percentage “willing to go the extra mile” for their companies.

However, this talent remains underleveraged because women still struggle with family responsibilities and workplace harassment.

Women are struggling to juggle work and family responsibilities and these challenges are reflected in staff turnover, absenteeism and productivity.

While those challenges are not unique to emerging markets, there are some significant contrasts between most high income countries and emerging markets. For instance, there is limited availability of state support with childcare such as nurseries and pre-schools and state benefits for the elderly are limited or non-existent. Women often rely on relatives such as grandparents who are active caregivers of grandchildren but face increasing challenges with eldercare.

In 2014, I conducted individual interviews with Asian women working in multinational firms for the coaching company Talentis. What surprised me the most was that even childless women who had secured senior roles had to take a step down in their careers or retire to take care of their parents.

In China for instance, there is a lot of stigma attached to professional help for elderly care and nursing home4 which is seen as a lack of filial piety. As a result, a staggering 70% of women have elder-care responsibilities. In 2013, the government even passed a law to force children to visit their parents regularly5

Despite legislation often being in place, discrimination is still rife and derails women’s careers.6

More than 50% of educated women in India, 48% of their counterparts in China, and 40% of Brazilian women professionals feel they receive inferior treatment at work because of their gender.

In Brazil, 86% of women have experienced street harassment and body guards or taxis are often provided to female executives who leave the office after 7 pm. But sexual harassment does not stop at the office door, it is rampant in workplaces too.7 Such incidents have significant consequences on women’s progression. More than 40% of the women surveyed in Brazil, China and India said that they had experienced prejudice severe enough to make them consider scaling back or quitting their careers.8

What businesses can do to reverse the tide

Businesses have a vital role to play in tackling these issues and with potential impacts ranging from better talent acquisition and retention prospects to improved service delivery, increased gender diversity in emerging markets presents clear benefits for business as well as for the wider society.



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