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Moving to Thailand is as daunting as it is exciting, and expats may be wondering what to expect from the social dynamics of this Southeast Asian country. Thanks to a boom in remote work, Thailand has become a haven for digital nomads looking to explore its gorgeous landscapes while enjoying a relatively low cost of living. All of this has served to attract expats from every corner of the world and increase the diversity in Thailand's society.
Below we explore issues of diversity and inclusion that newcomers may encounter in Thailand.
Accessibility in Thailand
Facilities for those with disabilities in Thailand are improving but are not up to global standards. Moving around Bangkok and other cities is a challenge for those with mobility issues, with uneven pavements, high kerbs, and a shortage of disabled toilets. Taxis (or ride-hailing services like Grab) are generally the best option for getting around. Accessible taxis can be hired, but usually need to be booked in advance.
There has been an effort to improve the facilities on public transport in Thailand. Both international airports in Bangkok have facilities for disabled travellers and lifts to all floors, and all the stations on the Bangkok MRT now have lifts and wheelchair access. Some BTS stations do not have lifts, though, and travellers should check the BTS website to find out about station facilities before they travel.
Most public buildings, large hotels and offices have some disabled facilities, but few have the full range of facilities that might be expected by global expats.
LGBTQ+ in Thailand
Thailand has long had a reputation for tolerance of LGBTQ+ people. Same-sex relationships have been legal since 1956, and the capital, Bangkok, is considered one of the most gay-friendly cities in Asia. Although gay marriage or civil union is not possible, the Gender Equality Act of 2015 bans discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Public opinion favours the legalisation of same-sex unions.
It is common to see transgender people on television and within the entertainment industry in Thailand, but they still lack basic legal rights compared to the rest of the population and can face barriers to employment and promotion.
There is a lively gay scene in most of the major cities and annual gay-friendly events take place in Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.
Gender equality in Thailand
Thailand’s Constitution of 2017 states that men and women have equal rights. However, women still face lingering challenges in the workplace due to established patriarchal values.
According to the World Bank, the labour-force participation rate among females in Thailand was 59 percent as of 2021, compared to 75 percent for men. This gap reflects underlying social norms, where women are expected to be the main caregivers in the family for both children and the elderly. The gender pay gap between male and female employees continues to decrease and now stands at just 8 percent.
Thailand offers 98 days of maternity leave. The employer should continue to pay a full salary for the first 45 days, and the latter portion is paid at 50 percent by the Social Security Office (SSO). Private companies are not required to pay paternity leave, but 15 days of paid paternity is provided in the public sector.
Expectant mothers are entitled to ask their employer to adjust their work responsibilities to be more suitable during pregnancy and after childbirth. It's recommended for employees to speak to their HR Manager to find out more about the specific benefits offered at their companies.
Women in leadership in Thailand
Thailand has a high percentage of women in senior leadership positions. According to the Women in Business Report of 2020, women hold 24 percent of all CEO and Managing Director jobs in Thailand, compared to an average of 20 percent worldwide and only 13 percent in the Asia-Pacific region. The 2019 Corporate Governance Report found that 20 percent of directors in listed companies were women.
There was a threefold increase in women’s parliamentary representation following the 2019 general election, with female members of parliament increasing from 5 percent to 16 percent. This number grew even further in the 2023 general elections, with 19 percent of Thailand's parliamentary seats held by women.
Mental health awareness in Thailand
The stress associated with moving home, job and school means that expats are often at greater risk of developing conditions such as depression and anxiety. International companies are becoming more aware of mental health issues, and many have adjusted their policies to provide better support. This includes ensuring that mental illness is well covered by the company’s chosen employee healthcare schemes.
The level of medical expertise in Thailand is high and doctors working in government hospitals generally also work within private practice. Most government hospitals have mental health departments, but due to waiting times and language limitations most foreigners choose to make an appointment with a psychologist or a psychiatrist in a private practice.
Unconscious bias training in Thailand
Unconscious bias is an implicit set of often stereotyped ideas an individual carries about groups of people different to themselves. These ideas are not purposefully adopted but rather develop subtly over time. People tend to hold unconscious biases about groups they never or rarely come into contact with.
Unconscious bias can profoundly affect both personal and work conditions. In the workplace, unchecked bias undermines vital aspects of the company, with negative effects on employee performance, retention, and recruitment. In a bid to create a better work environment, many companies are beginning to institute unconscious bias training. There are also several online resources that can be used to improve self-awareness regarding bias.
Most Thais regard racism as a Western issue, but there is also racial prejudice in Thailand, as there is in most countries. Dark skin is associated with the lower classes and those who do outdoor work. This bias is exacerbated by the fact that many wealthier Thais are of Chinese descent and have a lighter skin tone and those with darker skin hail from the country’s poorer rural regions. Southern Thais, Malays and Muslims can face discrimination in the workplace and scrutiny from the police. While dark-skinned Thais are deemed to be of a lower class, it is unusual for black Westerners to experience racism, though there have been reports of harassment from the police in Bangkok. There are no laws in Thailand that criminalise racial discrimination.
Diversification of the workforce in Thailand
While Thailand is a homogeneous nation, it has experienced an influx of foreigners over recent years. There are now between 3 and 4 million foreigners living in Thailand, most from neighbouring countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar. There are also a huge number of Western retirees and expats in the country.
Most companies now recognise the benefits of a workplace that champions diversity, equity, and inclusion. Studies have shown that organisations with a diverse and inclusive workforce are happier and more productive, as diversity tends to breed creativity and innovation.
Safety in Thailand
Crime rates in Thailand are low compared to international standards, and violent crime against foreigners is low. It is important to take sensible precautions to avoid petty theft, particularly on crowded public transport and in touristy areas, and to be aware of scams. Road safety is a major concern throughout the country, with reckless drivers and bad roads.
Read more about Safety in Thailand.
Calendar initiatives in Thailand
4 February – World Cancer Day
28 February – Rare Disease Day
March – TB Awareness Month
8 March – International Women’s Day
17 May – International Day Against Homophobia
19 May – Global Accessibility Awareness Day
June – Bangkok Gay Pride
10 September – World Suicide Prevention Day
October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month
10 October – World Mental Health Day
14 November – World Diabetes Day
1 December – World AIDS Day