According to the World Bank, participation by women in the workforce in Malaysia stands at 46%, which is low by international standards compared to neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand. What do you think are the reasons and how can organizations tackle this situation?
The lower rate of participation by women in the Malaysian workforce could be due to the increased number of women pursuing further studies or enrolling in tertiary education. This is good news as it means we are building a larger pool of highly educated and skilled talent who would join the Malaysian workforce upon graduation.
Unfortunately, we understand this rate of workforce participation declines after an initial peak - Malaysian women tend to drop out of the workforce after marriage and childbirth. Inflexible work hours, limited opportunities for part-time work and a lack of childcare facilities are some of the reasons why women do not rejoin the workforce after changes in their family situations.
As a result, we have a large group of educated, skilled talents who are not part of the Malaysian workforce. This is a real waste. We need to be able to tap into this talent pool. Organizations can do this by providing the necessary support and tools to help women manage their work-family life balance so that they can return to the workforce and still take care of their families. These can include flexible work arrangements, part-time work or work-from-home options, and childcare facilities near or at the workplace.
Gender diversity has become a priority agenda item for policymakers and business leaders internationally. How can gender diversity add value to your organization? How can it add or improve business and financial performance?
Studies have revealed a strong positive link between corporate financial performance and the presence of women in senior management. On measures of return on equity, return on sales and return on invested capital, companies with the highest representation of women board directors outperformed those with the least.
However, we have to keep in mind that diversity is not defined just by race or gender. It also encompasses the whole human experience – generation, culture, education, personality, skills and life experiences.
Differing voices and viewpoints are powerful factors in steering innovation. They generate lively debate, healthy conflict, fresh ideas and potentially, new products and services that result in visible benefits to the bottom line.
By receiving and implementing innovative ideas from a variety of individuals from both genders with different backgrounds, skills and experiences, leaders can drive steady growth and profitability for their organizations. Ultimately, diverse viewpoints lead to broader perspectives on business issues, better ideas, better teams and better decisions.
Does your organization have any policy or KPIs emphasizing female talents? What systems or tools has your organization put in place to attract women on career hiatus to rejoin the workforce?
Nowadays, flexible working arrangements (FWA) and support facilities are preferred by women with families. Does your organization provide these? If yes, can you share more details on these?
Inclusiveness is key to our culture. In Ernst & Young, we recognize the power of women in making a significant difference to our organization in terms of different perspectives and points of view that ultimately result in high-quality client service. Therefore, we have several programs that support the success of women throughout their careers with us.
To help women succeed as professionals and leaders, we provide education, mentoring and networking opportunities geared to the professional needs of women every step of the way. We measure our results as well as recognize individuals who serve as role models and facilitators of women’s development among us. Indeed, a strong "tone at the top" from senior leaders holds our partners and principals accountable for the development and advancement of women in the organization.
At Ernst & Young, our flexible work environment is the single best tool we have to accommodate people with differing abilities. Flexibility makes a difference. Supporting flexibility helps us meet the needs of individuals, their teams and our clients.
To attract and retain women in our workforce, including those on career hiatus, we provide our women employees with an inclusive and flexible work environment and the necessary tools and support. We provide our people with the technology and resources to make working from any location – home, client site, hotel or airport – simple. These tools include laptops with 24/7 technical assistance to support work outside of the office; a monthly allowance to cover costs associated with Blackberry, mobile broadband and/or mobile phone services, whichever they find most useful to work flexibly; and privacy rooms for nursing mothers returning to work. With these resources and technology, we help them keep in touch with other team members, work together to meet client expectations, and increase productivity and efficiency.
While the vast majority of our people work flexibly on a day-to-day basis, a number of our professionals benefit from establishing a formal flexible work arrangement (FWA) regarding hours, schedules and availability.
Informal flexibility might mean working from home to facilitate getting to a doctor’s appointment, starting work a little earlier so one could volunteer at a community event or leaving at a specific time to attend a school play or a family function.
On the other hand, when a person requires a regular need for flexibility, they might consider creating a business case and applying for a formal FWA with options such as flexible hours, reduced schedules, seasonal schedules or telecommuting.