Sisters still doing it for themselves

While the participation rate of Thai women in the workforce is higher than average for the region, evidence shows that pay differentials between the sexes persist and various obstacles stand in the way of women getting ahead in their careers ? indeed relatively few Thai women hold significant decision-making positions in either politics, the civil service or the private sector.

Participation high
The 1998 participation rate for women in the labour force was 63 per cent, one of the highest figures for Asia; however, there are marked gendered patterns of employment across industries. For instance, according to the 1998 Labour Force Survey, only 22 per cent of women made up all administrative positions as opposed to 58 per cent of clerical workers. United Nations Development Fund for Women?s (just put Unifem and it?s not so much of a mouthful?) regional program director for east and southeast Asia Lorraine Corner attributes this figure partly to women not getting ahead in the public service and government – until 1998 there had never been a female permanent secretary. ?The government needs to recognise its own rhetoric,? she says. ?It has not been very active; large sections of the government are not very supportive [about addressing imbalances].?

But pay isn?t
Despite legislation requiring equal pay, women on average are paid considerably less than men for the same or comparable work. The same survey showed that the average monthly salary for women overall was Bt15,074, while their male counterparts earned Bt23,742. At the officer (ie lowest) level women made up 54 per cent of the total employed and earned Bt9,388 compared to males, who earned Bt10,971. And the more senior the position, the wider the gap. At the director level, where women made up 23 per cent of the total, women earned an average of Bt51,206. Men pocketed Bt63,848.

On men?s terms
Panatda Chennavasin made news in July when she was chosen as director of marketing for Tri Petch Isuzu, a Japanese-Thai company in the automotive industry. Panatda says she does not believe she?s faced particular obstacles to get where she is today. ?However, my company is not typical of either Thai or Japanese firms,? she says. ?It is very unique, and has its own way of corporate management. From my first day here, I have not had to face any discrimination.?

However, she had to overcome it to be accepted into the company in the first place ? she answered an advertisement asking for male applicants. ?I called the Japanese GM and said, ?Give me a chance ? you will never be disappointed.? ? She took the necessary exam and interview and was offered a position in 1977.

Panatda argues that women have to be the ones to prove they are capable of the job. ?They have to show men that males and females are equal, that brains have no gender.? For Panatda, this has involved working long hours and planning her time carefully. ?You really do have to plan – you cannot just work like a man.?

Breaking through in the civil service
Secretary-general of the Office of the Civil Service Commission Khunying Dhipavadee Meksawan agrees. ?Both males and females are not used to having a woman leader at the top,? she says. ?You have to prove yourself more than a man, but you have to look at life in a positive way too ? people tend to underestimate your ability because you?re a woman, so it?s not difficult to be compared well to your male colleagues.?

Khunying Dhipavadee identifies several problems for Thai women getting ahead in the workforce: they are still viewed as the weaker sex; they lack role models; they need to balance being aggressive with being soft; and they need to balance family life with work. ?Even if outside the house you?re number one, you are still expected to go home and be a proper housewife.?

She offers advice to women who want to get ahead: ?We have to start with ourselves. You have to keep improving yourself and depend on your own abilities. You have to have confidence in your own ability, and present the positive side of yourself to the public. You have to work hard, and work as a team. Try to create a network of both male and female contacts; and manage your time.?

Couldn?t this advice apply equally to men? Khunying Dhipavadee concedes that it does. ?But women have to work at all of these things much harder.?

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