By Irene Ohler

When Mr. Anh, CEO of a Vietnamese tech company told the all-male board of his company that he had decided to promote a woman as his successor, he was met with the immediate question: Why?

He says he came up against prejudices, had to justify his decision a lot, and provide a lot of reasons ‘why’. “It took double the time for lots of challenging questions. For a man, I would just get technical questions,” said Anh.

When I asked him why he wanted to promote this colleague to become his successor he replied: “I trust her. I’ve observed her over the past two years; I looked at her strengths, at her strategy, she’s got what it takes to take the company to the next level”.


Vietnam is full of remarkable women, many of whom are in executive and leadership positions or aspire to these roles. But many of these talented women, particularly those in the 25-35 age bracket, are struggling with social pressures to be the “perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect daughter and perfect daughter-in-law” while also trying to juggle their careers.

As a result, many businesses are losing female talent who ‘lean out’ to play these other roles. Businesses are not only losing their younger productive talent but are also finding themselves with a much smaller pipeline of potential women leaders lined up for senior roles.

At the same time, women in Vietnam have surpassed men in terms of educational attainment with 54% of total tertiary education graduates, and are expanding their skills in STEM disciplines. They are increasingly well-trained, more engaged in the workforce, and as aspirational and ambitious as their male colleagues to get into senior management.

What business wouldn’t want to attract and retain this talent that makes up almost 50% of the workforce?


Gender bias impacts women’s career progression, including recruitment and promotion, work assignments and training, and mobility according to a 2020 ILO Report.

A World Bank enterprise survey in 2020 showed that 22% of enterprises in Vietnam have female CEOs.

The top three areas where most enterprises in Vietnam employed women in middle and senior managers were HR (65%), finance and administration (52%) and marketing and sales (43%).

By comparison, the lowest percentage was in the areas of profit and loss (16%), research and development (20%), and operations (21%) – which are the traditional pathways to higher management positions.


I’ve encountered two key beliefs when it comes to the topic of women in leadership: First – held by Vietnamese men as well as women – that women are already doing fine, that women are already “quite equal’. Just look at all the outstanding women CEOs. In other words, there is no problem to be solved.

A second, contrary, view to this is that women have certain societal roles (wife, mother, daughter) that mean they should not expect to rise to leadership positions.

Both cultural beliefs are challenging in terms of motivating action on gender diversity and creating a work environment that enables more women to step into leading positions.


But the research is clear: companies with more women in leadership positions perform better. According to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, Vietnam could add USD40 billion a year to its GDP by 2025 by advancing gender equality.

The 2020 ILO enterprise across Asia and the Pacific survey showed that improving gender diversity in the workplace creates improved business benefits: 65% reported increased profitability and productivity, and 18% of enterprises even reported profit increases between 15-20%.

Almost 69% reported an increased ability to attract and retain talent, 62% reported greater creativity, innovation, and openness, 57% said their company’s reputation had been enhanced, and 47% reported a better ability to gauge consumer interest and demand.


How can you be mindful of gender diversity and intentional about creating inclusive work practices that leverage every talent? A good starting point could be a (freely available) self-assessment tool, the Women’s Empowerment Principles Gender Gap Analysis Tool (WEPs Tool) supported by the United Nations. It is designed to help companies to identify strengths, gaps, and opportunities to improve their performance on gender equality.

If you haven’t yet, start having conversations on the topic around your board table, with your senior leadership team, across your organization and you may be surprised by what you learn.

Become a member of the Vietnam Business Coalition for Women’s Empowerment (VBCWE), which will give you access to a range of resources and a network of engaged companies like Deloitte, Maritime Bank, or SASCO.

Last, but certainly not least, provide the female talent in your organization with a dedicated place to grow together; this can be an internal network, or through tailored women leadership development programs, such as the SPARK! and IGNITE! Programs that my company offers here in Vietnam.

As I write in my book Ba Trieu’s 21st Century Daughters: Stories of Remarkable Vietnamese Women: If this is what women [in Vietnam] can do without any specific support mechanism and despite ongoing gender inequality, imagine what could be possible with serious encouragement and equal opportunities? [C]

*Name changed to protect anonymity.

Irene Ohler is the Executive Coach, author, Co-Chair of the AmCham Women in Leadership Committee, and creator of the SPARK! CONNECTION – an ecosystem for women’s leadership development powered by her consultancy Lightpath Leadership –

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