“Why do you need a #MeToo Movement?”

An interesting perspective about Board Diversity and the #MeToo Movement from Board Executives in SE Asia

After my speech in Ho Chi Minh City with the President of the HCM Stock Exchange and Directors of VIOD
After my speech in Ho Chi Minh City with the President of the HCM Stock Exchange and Directors of VIOD

ABA was recently invited to speak to a number of Executive Groups and Government Entities in Vietnam and Indonesia by the Vietnam Institute of Directors #VIOD and two YPO chapters. Over the course of 8 days, we spoke to both stock exchanges in Vietnam (read about it here) to over 200 Chairpersons, Directors, and CEO’s from Vietnam’s largest publicly traded companies. The training focused on unique processes that help boards transcend their Governance mandates and become more strategically focused.

We also provided full day training sessions to two #YPO Chapters (Young Presidents Organization) in Jakarta and Saigon. Both of these trainings were focused on the tactics that will transform any well-run board meeting into a High Impact Board Meeting that generates sustainable and tangible strategic value to any organization.

Beautiful venue in Ho Chi Minh City

We do many trainings and speeches all over the world and while the content is always focused on driving higher Impact from boards and board meetings, we often have to tailor the message to the unique cultural differences in for the specific different countries or specific organizational structures. These speeches were no different, but we were surprised to find that there was a unique commonality among the business environments in the two very different cultures of Vietnam and Indonesia. The commonality was an exceptionally high focus on female inclusion and diversity at the executive levels of many of the larger companies and senior positions within and different Government Entities especially, in contrast to many western countries including the US.

We do many trainings and speeches all over the world and while the content is always focused on driving higher Impact from boards and board meetings, we often have to tailor the message to the unique cultural differences in for the specific different countries or specific organizational structures. These speeches were no different, but we were surprised to find that there was a unique commonality among the business environments in the two very different cultures of Vietnam and Indonesia. The commonality was an exceptionally high focus on female inclusion and diversity at the executive levels of many of the larger companies and senior positions within and different Government Entities especially, in contrast to many western countries including the US.

This was a pleasant surprise because we rarely encounter such a high prevalence of diversity.

From my perception, it seemed like more than half of the participants were women in executive level positions. And these were the leaders of their respective organizations, not the assistants or mid-level managers sent to take notes. I attended many lunches and dinners with our hosts and participants after these trainings. The meals were more celebratory in nature, with many questions for Alan Hepburn who is a Managing Partner for ABA Asia, and myself from the Executives and Government Leaders that attended. 

As part of our experience, we enjoyed the amazing food, discussions, and hospitality provided by our hosts. During our visits I couldn’t help but notice that many of the executives at these post meeting events, were those same strong women that attended the event. Again, another pleasant surprise and it allowed me a unique forum to ask these very accomplished executives in depth questions and was extremely impressed at the size and global scope of many of the companies and organizations that these women have built. If there had been a CNN television crew in tow, I would have thought I was in an episode of the late Anthony Bourdain’s show “Parts Unknown”.

During one such post meeting meals, we were having a beautiful lunch at the National Press Club in the heart of Hanoi and I was speaking with Ha Thu Tranh and Tieu Yen Trinh. Tranh is an amazingly accomplished woman who not only heads up the Vietnam Institute of Directors (#VIOD) but is also the Chairperson of Deloitte in Vietnam and was one of the first CPA’s in Vietnam. She was voted one of the “50 Most Influential Women in Vietnam” by Forbes. Trinh is also very involved with VIOD and is the Founder and CEO of #Talentnet one of the premier Human Capital Consulting Services Companies in Vietnam. I did my best Anthony Bourdain impression and I asked my hosts how they were able to accomplish what so many Western Countries including the US are struggling with, diversity in leadership roles.

A beautiful skyline in Ho Chi Minh City

They both explained to me that much of the rich history in Vietnam highlights the unique contribution of women in their historical fabric. The conversation went like this;

Myself: “In the US there has been a focus on driving higher rates of diversity and equality in the Executive and Board ranks of corporations. While we have come a long way, I still do not see a lot of diversity in many board rooms in Western countries which seems very different than what I have experienced here in Vietnam. Is there something from a cultural standpoint that you would attribute such a high concentration of Women in Executive and Government Leadership roles here in Vietnam?”

Tranh; “Yes. There is a focus on explaining and teaching our young people about all of the contributions of strong women in our history who have had an impact in shaping our country. We tell our daughters that they can replicate these famous people and accomplish anything they want to.”

Myself; “That is great. As the father of a teenage daughter I do the same thing, and I think many parents in the West say the same things to their children, yet surprisingly we have not seen the same results as you seem to have achieved here in Vietnam?”

Trinh; “That surprises me?”

Myself; “Why is that surprising to you?”

Trinh; “If parents teach similar ideas to young women in the US and this is a common practice and belief then why would you need the #MeToo Movement or Diversity Initiatives?”

OUCH!!!!

I didn’t say that, but I sure thought it. Strong point. I heard similar comments from top female Executives in Indonesia too.  As our trip came to a close, I couldn’t help but wonder about ……

TO BE CONTINUED….