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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 But that could be an outdated product of history: Most office cultures were formed starting decades ago, at a time when women were shut out of many professions, leaving men to shape those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

Investors in Vietnam to be More Cautious While Investing in Tech Startups

Vietnamese Investors More Cautious with Tech Startups

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Investors and entrepreneurs in the communist nation are taking a more critical look at their businesses after seeing others get burned overseas. Pixabay

Vietnamese startups are heading into the new year looking to avoid the mistakes of such companies as Uber and WeWork, which disappointed investors in 2019 for failing to turn a profit after so much buildup.

Investors and entrepreneurs in the communist nation are taking a more critical look at their businesses after seeing others get burned overseas. WeWork, which rents out shared workspaces, was seen as a cautionary tale of a startup that did not live up to expectations and was not profitable.

For years, investors were willing to back losing businesses to gain market share. But now, there is more scrutiny of new investments.

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Ho Chi Minh City is the business hub of Vietnam, where fast economic growth has attracted startup investors. VOA

Benchmarks set

The Vietnam Innovative Startup Accelerator (VIISA) requires its technology startups to meet a list of benchmarks throughout their time in the program.

“Apart from very intuitive selection criteria that all applying startups have to go through, the program has introduced a new development measurement method, which helps us to capture the progress of startups that are accepted into VIISA,” Hieu Vo, a board member and chief financial officer at VIISA, said. “I think this process will bring out the best in each person for the particular business they have founded and committed to.”

Vo said his colleagues sit down with startups when they join the accelerator to discuss key performance indicators, or KPI, that will be set as goals. VIISA also does training for the young businesses so they have quantifiable skills, such as how to structure a business deal, or how to set up their accounting system.

Having metrics and ratings, Vo said, supports “both business performance, as well as personal transformation of founders.”

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Uber was one among those companies that left investors disappointed in 2019. Wikimedia Commons

Founder scrutiny

The founder as an individual has become a point of scrutiny for investors, who used to be more forgiving of an eccentric or aggressive founder, seen as part of the package to have a tech genius head an innovative business. But there has been a backlash among those who think too much permissiveness can damage a business, from the sexual misconduct amid the workplace culture of Uber, to the conflicts of interest in business decisions at WeWork.

It helps to not just think short term and to have an outside perspective, according to Pham Manh Ha, founder and chief executive officer of Beekrowd, an investment platform in Ho Chi Minh City.

“As a first-time founder, it seems impossible for us to look beyond the first six months to a year of our business,” he said, adding that experienced third parties can help businesses take the long view. “They stand outside the trees that are blocking us from seeing the forest.”

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To see the forest, Vietnamese businesses like his are taking a more measured approach. Vietnam has seen an escalation of tech startups, as investors have rushed to put their money to work and take advantage of the economy’s fast growth.

They also remember the dot-com bubble in the United States, and the more recent global tech bubble, two reminders for caution. (VOA)