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Women Assert New Skills, Push Back on Work Culture Created by Men in Vietnam

Forkast News founder Angie Lau said there are certain skills typically associated with women, but they should be encouraged in men, too

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A woman works making candy in Ben Tre, Vietnam, where some say workplaces should embrace traits traditionally seen as feminine, such as humility. VOA

Be assertive. Speak out. Lean in. The world of work continues to tell women what they have to do to succeed in a hyper competitive business environment.

But some are getting tired of being told how to fit in, and in Vietnam some are now pushing back against these demands. They say the status quo is a work culture created by men, one that forces women to assimilate. In place of this, women are asserting new skills — like listening, or taking care of the group — that they think don’t get enough attention from employers.

“I want to become a leader like my mother, someone who both does well in my work, as well as takes care of my family, bringing up five children,” said Ha Thu Thanh, chairwoman of the accounting firm Deloitte Vietnam.

Male-dominant history

Forkast News founder Angie Lau said there are certain skills typically associated with women, but they should be encouraged in men, too. “The women here have the skills that are absolutely in demand for the economy that will be tomorrow — empathy, vulnerability, sensitivity, compassion, kindness, listening,” she said at a Forbes women’s conference in Ho Chi Minh City. “These are skills that we are not necessarily born with, but it’s actually encouraged and nurtured for women.”

Vulnerability and kindness are not obvious tools to get ahead in one’s career. But that could be an outdated product of history: Most office cultures were formed starting decades ago, at a time when women were shut out of many professions, leaving men to shape those cultures. Lau noted both women and men have been socialized to believe they naturally have different traits, that one gender is more authoritative, or that another is more emotional. So with men in charge for so long, it’s no surprise that offices came to favor traits considered masculine, from beating out the competition, to boasting of one’s triumphs.

Modesty, collaboration

But what if a company rewarded the modest, as well as the boastful? The competitive, as well as the collaborative? Women are challenging old ideas of what it means to succeed professionally. Instead of just changing themselves to fit the work environment, they are changing the environment to include them, to value a broader set of skills.

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Schoolchildren walk through a road in Hanoi. Advocates say feminism should be taught to any gender, such as by encouraging compassion in boys. VOA

​“Our goal is not to compare ourselves to men, our goal is not to be better or worse,” said Amanda Rasmussen, chief operating officer of ITL Corp, a logistics firm in Vietnam. “Use the things that make you unique, whether it’s being collaborative or empathetic or the ability to be real or the ability to care for those around you.”

Men’s responsibility

Advice like “lean in” or “be assertive” puts the responsibility on women to adapt to the way things already are. But Lau and others say men need to do their part, too. Murray Edwards College surveyed hundreds of women, who reported many similar challenges at work, from being interrupted at meetings, to being left out of business conducted over a round of golf. While women should speak up, men also should notice how they’re ignoring women in meetings and speak up for them, college president Barbara Stocking wrote in a Financial Times op-ed.

Vietnam has its own version of mixing business and golf. Business partners commonly strike deals at bars filled with paid escorts. To bond, colleagues “nhau” or go out for street beers. Both are activities that specifically exclude women.

“Women have to overcome more difficulties than men to become good leaders,” said Nguyen Thi Mai Thanh, president of electrical firm REE Corp. She cited the example of family limitations, not just needing to raise children, but being limited professionally if one’s husband or other family oppose “the career woman.”

Teaching boys

If power dynamics are changing, then globally this extends beyond business. In the U.S. some wonder if “win at all cost” competitiveness has made politicians polarizing and unwilling to compromise. In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern champions a politics of compassion, to replace cutthroat politics.

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To return to a more inclusive environment, think of what the next generation is learning, Lau said. What she’s teaching her son goes beyond old-fashioned gender paradigms.

“I, as a mother, must empower him,” she said, “make him understand the power of compassion, empathy, authenticity, vulnerability. These are the skills of the 21st century.” (VOA)

Next Story

Vietnam and Australia to Start Collaborating on Science Initiatives

The winning teams are three different pairs of universities, one from Vietnam and one from Australia, that will work together

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Vietnam, Australia, Science
In the Pacific Ocean, a sea cucumber deploys its upright 'sail' to use current energy to transport itself along the sea floor. VOA

From sea cucumbers to cancer research, Vietnam and Australia will start collaborating on science initiatives that are meant to show how innovation can be used to spread out the benefits of economic growth evenly to more of the population.

The Australian government has given more than 1.6 million Australian dollars to the three winners of a competition it co hosted with the Ministry of Science and Technology of Vietnam as part of its so-called Aus4Innovation program. The winning teams are three different pairs of universities, one from Vietnam and one from Australia, that will work together on scientific research.

“The innovation partnership between Australia and Vietnam has proven to be an effective mechanism for the two countries to share best practice and models to enhance the innovation systems in both countries,” Vice Minister Bui The Duy from the Ministry of Science and Technology said at the award ceremony in Hanoi last week. “We hope grants provided under the Aus4Innovation program will set examples of how innovation – particularly when it can jointly [be] developed and implemented – can transform our society and deliver economic, social and environmental sustainability.”

One of the grants will center around sea cucumbers, a long spindly marine animal commonly cooked in Asian cuisine, whether fried on their own, or braised with mushrooms and Chinese broccoli. Scientists who received the grant are researching how to produce a hormone they believe can increase the productivity of sea cucumber farming. This matters to Vietnam because it wants its farmers to increase productivity so they can make a sustainable living while not draining so many resources  to harm the environment. At the same time, this product could raise questions of nutritional ethics among those who want minimal hormone and other human intervention in their food.

Vietnam, Australia, Science
The Australian government has given more than 1.6 million Australian dollars to the three winners of a competition it co hosted with the Ministry of Science and Technology of Vietnam. Pixabay

The grant recipients are researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) in Australia and the Research Institute for Aquaculture No. Three (RIA3) in Nha Trang, a touristic beach town along Vietnam’s south central coast known for its many islands.

They competed among 115 groups in Vietnam that applied for the grants and were selected based on their “potential positive economic and social impacts,” the Australian embassy in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, said in a press release.

Another of the three winners is a collaboration between the University of Sydney and the National Health Strategy and Policy Institute (NHSPI) in Vietnam, which are working on a way to improve methods to diagnose breast cancer.

Finally, one of the winning teams will use technology considered part of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” to improve water supply monitoring and treatment. The specific technology was not described, but considering the application, this likely means “internet of things” devices, which are devices such as sensors that have chips to connect them to the internet, so data can be collected. The team is from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the Vietnamese National University of Engineering and Technology (VNU-UET).

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“Deeper, stronger ties between our innovation systems is a key goal for our strategic partnership with Vietnam,” Rebecca Bryant, a charge d’affaires at the Australian embassy, said. “I’m delighted to see more and more collaboration between the research institutions of our two countries.” (VOA)