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Chris Rowley and Vimolwan Yukongdi “The Changing Face of Women Managers in Asia London” Book Review

Updated: Aug 17, 2022

Chris Rowley and Vimolwan Yukongdi. The Changing
Face of Women Managers in Asia London: Routledge, 2008.

While the title may suggest an overview of gender in management research across Asia, this book is mainly focused on East Asia: China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. Case studies from a wide range of business sectors such as information technology, arts, banking, and public services are offered throughout its 11 chapters, and the book is aimed at undergraduate and postgraduate students, scholars and practitioners with an interest in developments in gender in East Asia.

I saw three main factors of interest in this book. First, it covers a geographical region that is under-researched in terms of gender and management. Second, it offers a structured presentation of the countries that are studied in terms of context, case studies, challenges, and conclusions. For instance, each chapter discusses the past and present situation of women in management in each of these countries and enables the reader to make a comparison between countries. Third, the authors offer an extensive set of examples that describe the experiences of women managers in East Asia. This makes the book accessible to a worldwide readership.

The book’s in-depth exploration of recent developments for women managers in these countries can be illustrated here by taking examples from just a few of the 11 chapters. In the introductory chapter, the editors Rowley and Yukongdi argue that women in Asian labour markets face particular challenges in terms of advancing their careers. Although women worldwide face occupational segregation and a pay gap, it is cultural norms which orient women towards family commitment rather than education and career prospects. The editors also outline the need for a multitheoretical approach that takes into account the individual, organisational, and contextual influences that shape women’s careers, and include a brief presentation of the economies of the countries examined in subsequent chapters.

The second chapter focuses on women working in China. It explains that gender equality is improving in Chinese firms and presents a study based on 20 interviews (including 12 women) conducted with leaders in organisations in China. Findings show that job promotion in China occurs mainly on the basis of merit. Nevertheless, unfair treatment still exists in the workplace and is practised in top managerial positions. This happens as organisational politics and networking play a more important role than fairness in employment. This chapter shows the need for more formal human resource management policies in Chinese firms that would help individuals advance their careers.

In Chapter 4, Masae Yuasa presents a study on women managers in Japan. Japan signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1980. In 1999, the Equal Employment Law in Japan was amended to prohibit discrimination ‘in recruitment, training, promotion and remuneration’ (p. 69).

This led organisations to restructure themselves by incorporating larger numbers of skilled women. Yet, the chapter points to a deep problem in the implementation of family-friendly measures in Japan. For example, women opt for not taking their full maternity leave as they risk losing their position upon their return to their organisations. This shows that while organisational and official discourse is open to diversity and work-life balance, women in Japan face hidden pressures which lead to discriminatory practices against them.

Hwee Hoon Tan in Chapter 6 argues that women managers in Singapore face a lack of supportive equal opportunities legislation as well as societal, organisational and family backup. Thus women witness ‘low mobility up the corporate ladder’ (p. 132). The media seem to portray women in Singapore as being attached to traditional values. The author presents Confucian values as promoting the ‘role of women at home’ (p. 133) and suggests that by increasing their competencies, women can develop their own leadership and thus overcome career barriers. From my reading of this chapter, I found that it is only possible for competent women in Singapore to overcome career constraints if their family, the organisation they work for, society and the government offer them real support.

In summary, this book provides a detailed exploration of gender in management and thus has strong implications for understanding women’s employment from a sociological perspective. Other than perhaps a misleading title – it should have read ‘The Changing Face of Women Managers in Eastern Asia’ – this book would please readers of Work, Employment and Society, in particular postgraduate students and academics researching and teaching in the areas of diversity and international human resource management.

Flexibility is often seen as beneficial both for the economic success of organisations and for the quality of life of employees, yet the term has diverse meanings and implications and is often used without clarification. This edited volume consists of 12 chapters which examine and attempt to define organisational flexibility. Much of the discussion centres on the Atkinson model of the flexible firm with an emphasis, therefore, on functional flexibility, numerical flexibility and financial flexibility. The book resulted from a research project in Norway with the main questions relating to the increased frequency and scope of change in organisational settings and the subsequent impact on employees. Many chapters begin by posing questions, and then draw on data from a research project to answer those questions. The 11 contributors from four European countries offer data from France, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the UK. Most give explanations of numerical, functional and financial flexibility,

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