International Women's Day: Gender Gap in Thailand

20 March 2017

By Panida Kulchaisawat, managing director, ThaiAudit TheTruth (PrimeGlobal)

I have over 30 years of work experience, 5 years in an international law firm and over 25 years in “ThaiAudit TheTruth”, a local Thai accounting and audit firm. I currently hold a position of the firm’s Managing Director since January 2008. During all this time I have learned that women play an important role in the firm and also in the Thai economy. In my firm, we have only 10 men [22%] and 35 women [78%]. This proportion used to be quite different some years ago, and usually equated to 40% women and 60% men. Luckily, we have included some exceptional female staff over the years. They have grown in their careers with us, progressing from support staff roles to be an assistant manager and then all the way to top managerial positions. Some of them are married and have children while working with us so there is another role as a mother of their children. As we all well know, the nature of the work in the accounting and audit firms doesn’t always make it easy to balance work and family responsibilities. This often made some female staff to leave the firm due to family reasons and the need to spend more time with their families. But many have stayed and still remain an important part of the team.

Being aware of the daily pressures and the need for work-life balance, we allow the senior staff to occasionally work from home or remotely. This policy has been implemented several years ago and we find that it makes a big difference to our female staff. We do our annual staff reviews based on merit, and not gender, and it can be said that there is no gender pay gap or the glass ceiling.  Presently, women have been more enthusiastic in improving themselves, taking responsibility, and having patience and dedication to the assignments.

In Thailand's private sector, women are more visible than in many other countries in Asia. The inclusion of women has continuously improved over the years, but there is room for further improvement. Some statistic information of the higher education commission, show that in Fiscal year 2016: the graduation in Bachelor Degree totals 220,768, with 35% of male graduates and 65% of female graduates. The graduation in Master Degree total 27,608, where 37% are men and 63% are women.  The graduation in Doctoral Degree total 2,474, of which 48% are men and 52% are women.   

Today, the gender gap in education is decreasing dramatically in Thailand meaning more women will be eligible for higher managerial positions. Women are important to the economic growth, especially in developing countries.

It is also indicating that Thai women can work in the formal economy due to their knowledge and capability. Concerning the Marital Status, unmarried women have more opportunity to be CEOs because married women still have obstacles which include lack of child care.  

As for wages and income, women still fall behind in Thailand, despite their solid performance at school. Based on our analysis using the government's Labor Force Survey in 2014, women made approximately 15% less than men having a similar occupation, marital status, and age.

The gender disparity manifests itself when graduates begin working because significant numbers of women take a career break for family reasons, or even drop out of the labor force. We might perceive this as a choice, but let's bear in mind the pressures that lead to it.  After all, because of the prevailing gender gap in income, it makes economic sense for a household to rely on the wife or mother to handle care-giving. This seeming “choice” later drives a larger wage difference between women and men because a worker's skills and career progression are at risk of lagging behind after a long leave of absence.

In addition, Thailand has traditionally been a patriarchal society. Many Thais still believe that each gender has its own separate sphere of skills and responsibilities in the society. Many still expect that women will shoulder most of the family's caregiving burden. This explains why many women opt out of leadership roles, as they have to struggle more than men to achieve balance between family and career.

But achieving gender equality doesn't necessarily means that roles need to be perfectly equal in every way. Some basic differences persist for simple reasons of biology. Instead, equality should mean that men and women both enjoy a level playing field in terms of workplace treatment and opportunity.

Employers should improve work-life balance for female workers to enhance retention. A study by the International Labor Organization shows that some maternity-protection measures cost little and yield high returns. Such measures include flexible work hours and providing workplace facilities to store breast milk.