Global improvements, but still underrepresented . . .
Globally, gender parity reached 69 per cent in 2020 with the largest improvements in education attainment and health care. Another bright spot is the increasing representation of women in senior leadership roles in both political and corporate domains during the past five years. A 2019 study on Women in the Workplace reported that the share of women at the C-suite executive level improved from 17 per cent in 2015 to 21 per cent in 2019. In contrast to the positive changes at the leadership level, women continue to be under-represented at the parliamentary level and in the wider labour market. Their political representation in parliamentary seats and economic participation have globally stalled at 25 per cent and 55 per cent, respectively.
But rising in tech . . .
In East Asia and the Pacific, it is expected to take 163 years to close the gender gap, longer than in other regions. Southeast Asia’s tech startup scene, however, bucks the trend. In 2018, women-founded tech companies globally attracted an all-time high of international venture capital investment. Similarly, the higher venture capital funding is increasingly invested in women-led tech startups in Southeast Asia, driven by the region’s growing incubator and accelerator programs focused on women-led tech startups. Research has found that the “role model effect” is the key factor in empowering women to reach the leadership level.
Opportunities for Canadian engagement . . .
While becoming an entrepreneur presents challenges and uncertainties, being a woman entrepreneur in the male-dominated tech industry presents additional obstacles. Despite the lack of funding globally for women-led startups, women are also less likely to come forward with their business ideas and are less likely than men to ask for investment. It is important for Canada to create programs that support women entrepreneurs, which would lead to deeper engagement between Canada and the member economies of ASEAN. Canada has supported women empowerment and entrepreneurship in the region, notably, through the Women’s Initiative for Startup Entrepreneurship (WISE) and the APEC-Canada Growing Business Partnership’s Mentoring Women in Business program. Canada should increase this type of engagement by creating a partnership similar to the Canada-India Acceleration Program with ASEAN to support women-led tech startups in this dynamic region.