Taiwan Might Be a Country for Women in Politics. Can It Be So in Business?

Taiwan Might Be a Country for Women in Politics. Can It Be So in Business?
Photo Credit: WOB

What you need to know

Female executives governed less than 14% of Taiwan’s listed companies, a report shows.

Taiwan re-elected its first female president Tsai Ing-wen in 2020, but the world of business has not yet fully opened its arms to Taiwanese female leaders.

In 2021, female executives governed less than 14% of Taiwan’s 947 listed companies, showing signs of stagnating since 2015, according to a whitepaper by the Taiwan Women on Boards Association (WOB) in partnership with Ernest and Young (EY) Taiwan. The majority of them work in the manufacturing sector, a survey in 2018 showed.

In the United States, 28% of board members in S&P 500 companies are women, a separate EY survey pointed out. “Taiwan has a great room for improvement compared with the U.S. and the U.K.,” the whitepaper wrote.

Despite limited presence, more than half of Taiwan’s public companies led by female executives enjoyed a higher earnings per share than the average of their respective sectors, such as electronics and plastics, during the pandemic. 37.2% of these companies also saw a greater income growth than their competitors.

The United Nations announced the theme for International Women’s Day as, “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world,” which celebrates the contributions by women around the world in speeding up the recovery from the pandemic.

‘Disproportionate to the scale of their contributions’

Tseng Wen-sheng, the Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs, said that only about one third of small and medium businesses, equivalent to 97% of Taiwan’s companies, are led by women. “The number for listed companies is disproportionate to the scale of their contributions in the industries.”

In the press conference of the whitepaper release, Tseng started his speech by emphasizing that he spoke on behalf of minister Wang Mei-hua, who is one of only two female ministers under the second Tsai administration. President Tsai has been severely criticized for including fewer women in her Cabinet than her predecessors. 

“Under Minister Wang’s term, more than one third of the executives in four state-run companies [Taipower, Taiwan Water, CPC, and Taisugar] are women,” he said to applause by participants of the event.

Jaclyn Tsai, WOB director representing more than 70 female chairs, general managers, CEO’s, and board members, said the whitepaper has revealed that female-led businesses are generally more financially stable. “We should get the world to see the power of Taiwanese women.”

Background matters

Taiwan has been lauded as a leading country for women participating in politics — and not just in comparison with its neighbors in Asia, but on an international scale. In 2016, Taiwan elected a record percentage of female lawmakers to its parliament, at 38%, above the global average of 22%.

Many female politicians, including President Tsai and former Vice President Annette Lu, rose to prominence without hailing from a politically powerful dynasty.

In business, a meaningful percentage of female chairs and GMs founded their company, at approximately 20%, according to the whitepaper by WOB. 31% and 23% of female chairs and GMs, respectively, took over their role from the family. 

More than half of female executives had been headhunted or promoted to a top-level role. But 65% of all the surveyed leaders have taken over the larger responsibilities from men.

Difficulties abound

In Taiwan, women in business tend to build companies around e-commerce and consumer products rather than emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence, according to a 2020 report by the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Among all surveyed, 11% of male founders started AI/big data companies; 5% of female founders jumped into the same field.

“Such a discrepancy might have something to do with the numbers of male and female students studying in IT,” the report said. “Men are more likely to have the technical skills and background [necessary to found an IT firm.]”

Ming-zhu Tan, founder and chair of LinkCom Manufacturing Corporation, said, “When I just started the company [in 1988], there were very few women in my industry.”

“It was difficult to get into the circle of industry leaders, but we worked hard to improve the quality of our products more strictly than our clients requested. We have been innovative from the get go,” Tan said.

Other barriers exist for women to thrive in business. Marcy Kou, CEO of Kantar Worldpanel Asia, a market research firm, said Taiwanese women might feel “guilty” when being promoted to a higher position in business, not knowing whether they can juggle career and family.

The whitepaper, based on a survey of more than a hundred female business leaders, also revealed that 42% of respondents expressed a desire for “training projects tailored for female career development” this year. Support for the proposal increased from 25% two years ago, the largest increase among all the surveyed reforms, including setting up daycare facilities.  

The solution to helping women succeed in business, Kou told The News Lens, is the WOB’s initiatives. Founded in 2018, the organization has been developing a network of female executives, who would serve as mentors for mid-level female managers.

Asked if they plan to survey and help female startup founders match with existing WOB members, she said it is in consideration, but “we have to do things step by step.”

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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