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 organisations tackle the situation?
In Malaysia, at the basic entry level, there are more university-educated women than men. The recruitment of men and women into the workforce is perhaps at almost equal rate. Nevertheless as their career progress, there is higher attrition rate of women employees in the middle ranks, eventually leaving the top senior management to be almost exclusively in the male domain.
We believe that the under-representation of women in the workforce is not entirely by their own choice. The reasons are as follows:-
(i) Lack of workplace flexibility and family commitment
Lack of flexible policies in working arrangements is a major factor as to why women are under-represented in the workforce. Many employers adopt “one size fits all” concept and are not willing to be flexible to change their own infrastructure to cater to the changing needs of the workforce, particularly for working women. There needs to be a buy-in of the Board and top management as to the benefits of having a flexible working environment and policies which facilitate women employees to balance work-home commitments. Women traditionally have always been the primary care providers for young children and often need to sacrifice their career due to family commitments. As such, the absence of a facilitative working environment once working women enter motherhood will lead them to leave the workforce. This stage often occurs when women are just starting to climb up the ranks of middle to top management, thus eventually leaving top management to be dominated by their male counterparts.
(ii) Lack of child care centre
There is a real lack of quality and licensed child-care centres where mothers would be able to send their infants, toddlers or young children to at a reasonable cost while they are at work. The lack of well-trained and qualified childminders also makes it difficult working mothers to make the best childcare choices for their children without adversely affecting their career paths.
(iii) Lack of supply of quality domestic help
Inadequate supply of quality domestic help at affordable cost is a critical issue affecting working parents with young children. Heavy reliance on domestic helpers from neighbouring countries and the lack of availability of local maid services continue to be a major barrier, which often lead to women leaving the workforce to take care of their children.
(iv) Lack of opportunities for career progression
Women may find it very challenging to advance their career in male-dominated industries such as in construction, oil & gas and engineering industries. The talent management system in such industries may be very pro-male biased therefore women may find it very difficult to excel and reach the top ranks in such industries. There may be perceived gender bias in career progression among women that their male counterparts are more favoured and have more opportunities for career progression. Women who take time out may be marginalized and find it difficult to resume their career without loss of seniority or earnings power.