YANGON – Realising the need for workplace gender equality, seven leading companies in Myanmar – City Mart Holding Limited, KBZ Bank, KBZ MS, AYA Bank, FMI Company Limited, Parami Energy Group of Companies and Shwe Taung Group – came together to set up the Business Coalition for Gender Equality (BCGE) in 2017. Founded with the support of Investing in Women, an Australian government initiative, all the founding member companies demonstrate their commitment by taking an international gender certification, EDGE.

BCGE now has 21 companies as members and has partnered with other organisations like EDGE Strategy, AustCham Myanmar, EuroCham Myanmar, CCI France Myanmar, Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, GEN, Akhayar, Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs Network and Colour Rainbow. BCGE is also one of the organisations working under the Myanmar National Women Committee led by Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

Based in Yangon, Myanmar, Kyawt Kay Thi Win is the Country Director of BCGE and she took out some time to share her experiences with the Women Icons Network team and the roadmap ahead for the coalition in the area of Gender Equality at Workplaces.

What has been the response to the initiatives of BCGE so far?

Myanmar is a country rich with 135 diverse ethnic groups spread across seven states and regions. While Myanmar has seen gender equality initiatives and programs for a long time, workplace gender equality is quite a new topic and so it does pose some challenges for BCGE. Not very different from the global perspective, there is a widely held belief that gender equality is a women’s issue and something that NGOs and Government need to deal with.  This led us to develop some unique approaches and strategies.

In its third year since inception, BCGE continues to face reactions like “we already have workplace gender equality at our work because we have 70% of women in our company”, “we are too busy to do for workplace gender equality”, “how do you define we are doing workplace gender equality”, “what is the relation between workplace gender equality and flexible work arrangements”, etc.

Despite these hurdles, BCGE has been successful in getting some of the members and organisations to amend their policies around non-discrimination and anti-harassment. Further, businesses have shown interest around areas like unconscious bias during recruitment process, flexi work arrangements, inclusive workplace and leadership. There is growing acceptability of BCGE as the workplace gender equality advisor. The Covid pandemic, though has brought about challenges as it has taken a toll on many businesses.

Is there engagement of women employees in the program or is it completely employer led?

Though BCGE is founded by the businesses, women are central to the entire initiative. Their participation is one of the key pillars of BCGE.  Some of the instances of engaging women include: i) participating in employee survey of EDGE Certification ii) joining in public talks, events and panels iii) contributing in campaigns iv) contributing in business case studies v) joining in interviews vi) discussing in HR club etc. Under one strategic pillar of BCGE, Women Empowerment, women of different ages at all levels are encouraged to stand up and talk confidently about any topic they would like to share.

What is the level of awareness both among employers and employees on the subject of gender equality?

In introducing workplace gender equality to businesses, BCGE approaches the top management. Once the businesses commit and agree to move on, depending on the type of services the businesses take, BCGE engages with different levels of employees. Typically, the engagement is with HR Managers / Heads or General Managers or Corporate Directors from each company. We have seen better awareness at this level (they are part of the regular communications process with BCGE on bi-monthly basis). Employees who participate in the trainings and CEOs or top management of companies also have awareness at a strategic level as they frequently participate in BCGE’s panel talks, events and campaigns.

What are the key challenges towards achieving gender equality at workplaces in Myanmar?

As mentioned earlier, workplace gender equality is a new topic in Myanmar, even within the subject of gender equality. Not being a legislative priority and less of a judicial enforcement coupled with existing stereotypes and perception, the journey for BCGE is definitely not an easy one. Some of the issues that we have encountered over the last two years include i) workplace gender equality is not a need but a want for business according to Maslow’s Hierarchy. i.e it is not priority for all of businesses and they will do only if they want ii) workplace gender equality is additional work for businesses iii) workplace gender equality is yet another area like corporate governance, agriculture, environmental conservation, labour rights etc. iv) lack of understanding on workplace gender equality within community and businesses v) lack of law enforcement from Government on workplace gender equality vi) no incentive schemes for businesses who commit and work for workplace gender equality etc.

What according to you is the most significant inequality at workplace in Myanmar? Is it gender bias in hiring, unequal pay, lack of growth opportunities, board representation or anything else?

From my personal point of view and experiences, there are a couple of actions and processes which we can identify as inequalities at workplace in Myanmar. These include i) unconscious bias at recruitment process – from job advertisement to selection process ii) salary and benefit packages like different medical and per diem provision depending on position and level of authority iii) provision and encouragement on maternity and paternity leaves iv) stereotypes on sponsoring women’s voices and talents v) some of bullying and harassment practices which are normalised etc.

From a regulatory / compliance standpoint are there any clear guidelines for companies to work towards better gender representation in their workforce? Can you elaborate on any specific policies in this regard?

Unfortunately, Myanmar doesn’t have clear guidelines or laws for companies regarding better representation of women and men at their workforce though there are some clauses in labour law and constitution for workplace gender equality. For example, Myanmar Constitution’s chapter 8, clause 350 mentions equal rights for women and men, Minimum Wage Law & Rules, chapter 8, clause 14(h) focus on equal pay for equal work of minimum wage for both of women and men, Factory Act Amendment, chapter 5, clause 50 describe for child care facilities at factories, Factory Act Amendment chapter 4, clause 36 mentioned for health and safety of women at factories etc.

Is there anything unique to your market that is either helpful / impedes achieving the goal of gender equality at workplaces?

BCGE has a unique approach in encouraging workplace gender equality in the market which is i) developed workplace gender equality methodology which links to equal workplace and sustainable business ii) free provision of local context friendly “Know Your Workplace Gender Equality” assessment and report for two member tiers of Initiator & Implementor iii) free provision of a regional level assessment and report, GEARS, for Leader member iv) free provision of anti-harassment and non-discrimination policies template for member companies for their reference (all members of BCGE must have these two policies) v) EDGE Certification with membership price which is less than EDGE global certification price vi) bi-monthly and quarterly client care process for all members for required support for their workplace gender equality action plans and initiatives vii) provision of one day “Basic Workplace Gender equality” training to all members viii) promoting member’s workplace gender equality initiatives at influential media, BCGE’s bi-monthly newsletter, BCGE’s social media pages, panel and talks of BCGE and partners.