When women support each other, incredible things happen, as Peter Cornish discovers. Photos by Romain Garrigue.
Earlier this year, Ho Chi Minh City hosted Forbes Vietnam – Women’s Summit 2017: Women Bettering the World, the largest women’s leadership and empowerment event in Vietnam. As part of a progressive movement, the summit brought together some of the country’s most powerful and influential women, both to highlight their achievements, and to inspire others to take leadership roles in the rapidly developing country.
In many respects, Vietnam has a commendable track record for promoting gender equality and female empowerment. Legislation is in place that supports equality in the workplace, with men and women tending to be matched in comparative terms of responsibility and pay. The 2006 Law on Gender Equality introduced a national strategy to close the gender gap, promoting women’s rights and tackling discrimination against women in the workplace and at home. To date, the strategy has been effective, and Vietnam is recognised as one of the leading countries for reducing the gender gap over the past 20 years.
On paper, the results are visible, with women holding major positions in both business and politics. The country now has one of the highest proportions of female parliamentarians, and the number of women CEOs and entrepreneurs rises annually. Three Vietnamese women were named in Forbes’ 2016 Most Powerful Women in Asia list, one of whom also made it to the magazine’s World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list.
Despite the Vietnamese government’s policies, women’s ability and potential remain undervalued in this country and deeply ingrained cultural stereotyping persists. Although equality in the workplace may exist in theory, women are often excluded from the after-hour meetings (and drinking sessions) where business relationships are formed and all-important deals are struck.
But this too is changing with organisations like the Ho Chi Minh City Association for Women Executives & Entrepreneurs (HAWEE) providing opportunity for women to network for social and professional growth, and to develop valuable relationships away from the traditional, male centric office culture.
HAWEE, as with similar groups such as Network Girls HCMC and Women of Vietnam, is paving the way for women to develop professionally, while finding balance between their work and home lives. In addition to providing opportunities for promoting talent and building experience, these organisations are empowering women through gender unity and strength, where women are able to support each other.
Women-only work spaces have been springing up in Europe and America for some time, providing collaborative shared workspace for entrepreneurs and start-up founders to come together, network and share expertise and resources. Introducing this growing trend to HCMC, the heart of Thao Dien now homes the city’s first women-only co-working facility, CO-SPACE, which had its official opening ceremony on September 15.
Founded by German entrepreneur Anne Greenfield and Spanish business woman and designer Sonia Aparicio, the concept is dedicated to building a network of female entrepreneurs committed to embracing, enhancing and empowering the way women work, together and individually.
Anne has been connecting European businesses to Asian markets and developing sales and marketing strategies since relocating to Asia in 2003. Her latest initiative is designed to provide members with connections to other female business experts in the community, and access to educational workshops and increased visibility for their projects.
Prior to arriving in Vietnam, Sonia worked as director of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in South China, and she started her business in Vietnam in interior design four years ago. Her experience working in a business association and opening her own company in Vietnam motivated her to start this new concept with Anne.
Together, they wanted to share their knowledge and experience to help others develop, and the idea for CO-SPACE was born. Their aim is to give value, share experiences, and promote female talent that may otherwise remain invisible in a male dominated environment.
Located on the 5th floor of 104A Xuan Thuy, CO-SPACE provides its members with connections to other female business experts and entrepreneurs. It’s a shared work and meeting space where women can create and collaborate in a professional, productive and inspiring environment.
As well as providing a space for quiet work, the venue will hold regular programmes for professional development, support for those who have left work due to maternity leave, and those who have recently relocated to Vietnam from overseas.
Although newly opened, CO-SPACE has attracted considerable attention from the local community. Current members bring a wealth of expertise from varied industries and professional backgrounds, as well as experience from different global locations and markets. Anne tells me that together they are creating a community with a shared common belief – that women go further when they go together.
As these collaborative groups and organisations continue to open around the city, they provide women from all walks of life with the opportunity to support and nurture each other. CO-SPACE provides a place where the female business community of HCMC can connect and collaborate, bringing practical value and communal strength to their members.