Companies in Asia's leading economies have "strikingly" few women in senior jobs, missing out on a vital pool of talent to fuel the region's growth, consultancy firm McKinsey & Company said on Sunday.
In a survey covering 744 firms of 10 major stock markets in the Asia-Pacific, McKinsey said women on average account for only 6% of board seats compared to 17% in Europe and 15% in the US.
Women hold 8% of executive committee seats in the Asian firms, still lower than the average of 10% in Europe and 14% in the US, it said, calling the numbers in Asia "strikingly low".
"It's a huge waste of talent, as half of Asian graduates are female. And it is a waste that Asian companies can ill afford, given the severe shortage of senior managers in the region," said the report titled "Women Matter".
Australia, Hong Kong and China topped the list of female presence in the boardroom, with women accounting for 13, 9 and 8% respectively in these top jobs, while South Korea, Japan and India were at the bottom.
In South Korea, where a conservative culture makes women's "double burden" of career and household duties particularly heavy, women take up only one % of boardroom seats.
Japan came next from bottom with only 2% of such jobs held by women due to similar pressures on them to be a sole caregiver of the family, it said, adding about 60% of Japanese women quit or change jobs after marriage.
The number hovers slightly higher at 5% in India.
Such "double burden" pressure was a dominant reason for women in the two economic powerhouses in northeast Asia as well as in India to leave jobs, while it had a far less influence in places like Singapore and China, it said.
"The double burden affects women in Europe, too. But inarguably, it is particularly heavy for Asian women...also because there is a lack of government support in areas such as childcare," it said.
China fared better than most other neighbours but the situation in Asia's biggest economy is hardly satisfying given it has one of the world's highest female labour participation rates, the report added.
"The study finds that...gender diversity is not yet high on the strategic agenda for most Asian companies, and few senior managers believe this will change anytime soon," McKinsey said in its first study on women in corporate Asia.
"Given tight labour markets and intense competition for talent across Asia...gender diversity needs to become a corporate priority," said Claudia Sussmuth-Dyckerhoff, co-author of the report.
She urged governments to follow moves by Malaysia or South Korea to set quotas for public jobs or offer incentives for firms building daycare centres, and management to offer more development programmes for women.