By Lien Hoang
Dec. 30— Vietnamese employers must be more proactive in promoting gender equality in the workplace, human resources experts told a forum in Ho Chi Minh City Dec. 17.
Jayanti Kandayah, Intel Vietnam's HR director, said her company begins reaching out to young women still in 11th grade, early enough to pique their interest in engineering careers but late enough for them to make life decisions about college and work.
Intel has been one of the most visible corporations in Vietnam seeking to raise the proportion of women in its workforce. After identifying potential candidates, the company gives them scholarships to study math and science abroad since in Vietnam just 3 percent to 4 percent of graduates in technical fields are female, making it hard for Intel to recruit.
“First of all, we want to make sure there's a supply [of candidates],” Kandayah said during a panel discussion organized by the American Chamber of Commerce.
One way companies try to attract more women is through internal recommendations. Under some incentive programs, a current employee can pass along the resume of a female applicant and if she is ultimately hired receive a bonus, usually a few hundred dollars.
One IBM representative said recruiters for her company hand out lipstick and perfume when they set up booths at job fairs, assuming that even if the person taking the cosmetics is a man, he will give them to a woman, who might think of IBM during her next job hunt.
Family and Work Life
Once hired, women can have a hard time juggling home and work life, according to Hang Nguyen, chair of Amcham's HR and labor committee.
“Women are expected to play a very difficult game,” Nguyen said at the forum.
Employers can help their female employees by considering family needs when developing schedules, Kandayah said, providing (for example) mothers—and fathers, for that matter—the flexibility to come and go when they need to care for their children. Companies can also allow staff to work from home more often, which is especially beneficial when a woman is pregnant or raising a small child.
Yet the opposite approach—sticking to a traditional routine—may be better in some situations. As director of BriskHeat Vietnam, a U.S.-based maker of heating jackets, Milton Hagler oversees nearly 400 workers, the vast majority of them women. Factories typically run six days a week, Hagler said, but BriskHeat decided to compress that schedule into five days so that the workers have a full weekend to spend with family.
“That works really well,” Hagler said. “The employees like that a lot.”
He added that BriskHeat targets mothers during recruitment because they're reliable.
“They are very even-natured and very easy to work with,” he said. “We have very few conflicts in the factory.”
Falling Off the Career Ladder
While some HR managers expressed concern about the penalty women may face when they take a career break to start families, Hagler said that shouldn't be a problem in Vietnam, where the law requires that women be reinstated in their original jobs when they return from maternity leave. In practice, however, women worry that their career choices will be more limited when they return to work.
“For females, usually as you go along the career ladder, they fall off,” Kandayah said.
Employers can mitigate this problem by helping women catch up when they return to work and by evaluating their performance without regard to time lost. This situation can also provide an opportunity for lower-level staff to get extra training by filling in for women on maternity leave.
“It's a great development opportunity for people to step into that role,” Kandayah said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lien Hoang in Ho Chi Minh City at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at email@example.com