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?
In the past few years, the government has actively been taking steps to move the country up the value-chain and build a knowledge-based economy. As a result, there has been a shift in the economic landscape of Malaysia; from labor-intensive jobs to higher-value jobs that require the nation's workforce to upgrade their skills and knowledge. What this means is, there is a lesser need for large numbers of production workers – especially in the electronics factories, where women are the majority.
While this has enabled the country to enjoy a significantly higher per capita income, more still needs to be done. The next step is for the government and organizations to take concrete actions to provide remedial training and education. We need a workforce that is constantly adapting, learning, and improving their skillset in order to capitalize on these value-added jobs.
This is very important for Agilent Malaysia. We encourage our employees to continuously upgrade themselves through training, education and gaining experience across different functions. We provide a clear development path for them to progress from labor intensive assembly to high technology systems integration work. If you walk along our manufacturing line, you will see our women production staff reading circuit diagrams and conducting the assembly and test of very technically sophisticated equipment. In fact, with the training and upskilling provided, many of our production operators have been able to take up technician roles, while our technicians have moved on to more value-add engineering jobs.
Gender diversity has become a priority agenda item for policymakers and business leaders internationally. How can gender diversity add value to your organisation? How can it add or improve business and financial performance?
We believe organizations with good gender diversity offer a business competitive edge. While their skills may be equivalent, men and women when working together, offer a much richer diversity of ideas, behavior and work styles. Because of such differences, organizations will benefit by leveraging from a much larger pool of best practices and perspectives. It is also vital that gender diversity is represented at all levels of management so that leverage can be optimized.
For us though, diversity goes beyond just gender; and our workforce represents a collection of talent from various cultures, ethnic backgrounds, beliefs and experiences. We believe that through synergizing the differences of our people, we are better able to deliver creative and innovative solutions to our customers. Whether you are a baby-boomer or Gen-Y, a man or woman – we all bring different perspectives to the table; but it is this difference that gives an organization its greatest strength. And companies need to recognize this.
Does your organisation have any policy or KPIs emphasising on female talents? What systems or tools has your organisation put in place to attract women on career hiatus to rejoin the workforce?
Nowadays, flexible work arrangements (FW A) and support facilities are preferred by women with families. Does your organisation provide these? If yes, can you share more details on these? If not, can you share your and your organisation's view on FWA and support facilities? Would you propose and implement any of the FWA or support facilities in your organisation? If you do, which will your management team support to take-up?
We are certainly not short of talented women at Agilent – a quick look at our leadership team today, and you will see that among our seven Vice Presidents, four of them are women. This is a testament to our company's culture and practices that promote diversity and equal opportunity. We also have a specific process to encourage women to pursue engineering as a career. We think this is a key area where women need better representation. In this respect, we regularly invite school girls to visit and speak with our women engineers to encourage them to take up engineering.
As for employees on a career hiatus, offering them to rejoin the organization is actually a company policy. This is, however, strictly based on performance and availability of a suitable position at that time. Our policy does not segregate between men and women. Agilent also has a very attractive flexible work hour program for all qualified employees. Our FWA encompasses the following:
- A no clock in policy where employees need not physically clock in for work. For non-production staff, this means the versatility to have some degree of flexibility in their work schedules during times of need.
- For specific cases, Agilent maintains an accommodative policy to allow employees a flexible work schedule to allow for special needs. The company leaves such decisions to the discretion of the individual supervisor or manager.
- Time to learn. Here Agilent allows employees time off for education that will help enhance the employee's value contribution and for personal enhancement. This can include study leave for qualified employees.
- Leave of absence. This is to accommodate employees on a career hiatus, sabbaticals, accompanying spouses working overseas and other relevant reasons. Employees on leave of absence are guaranteed of a job on rejoining although not necessarily the same job.
- Facilities. We also provide employees various conveniences that facilitate a flexible work arrangement. For example, we provide a Mother's Room for nursing mothers and IT infrastructure such as state-of-the-art tele- and video-conferencing as well as secured access to our network to help employees stay connected wherever they are.
What do you think are the key factors to encourage women to aspire to leadership and climb the
career ladder? Can you share tools or systems that you have implemented successfully in-house
that cater to leadership in women?
On the other hand, there are companies that have equal opportunity tools and systems in place. Despite these, barriers to opportunity may still exist due to women's own issues and biases, for example lack of confidence to compete together with men for job progression and opportunities, or their impression that men will be favoured or chosen to lead. How does your organisation manage or dismantle these barriers? What can we do together to address this?
For us, management leadership development is not divided by gender. We evaluate the potential of all employees individually, based on their performance. We want every employee to know that if they can deliver on their performance, gender is not a barrier. In short, there is absolutely no “glass ceiling” for women in Agilent. In fact, for our leadership development and succession planning process, we pick potential leaders from both genders to undergo specialized development. It will then be up to the individual from this selected group to compete for future leadership positions. The fact that we have slightly more women than men in our top management positions at this time underlines our commitment to giving both genders an equal opportunity to grow.
We believe the key to our success is having in place a solid process for leadership development. This goes a long way towards eliminating women's perspectives of unfair selection and having poor confidence levels compared to their male counterparts. It is crucial for such leadership programs to start early in an individual's career path. Both men and women will gain the same training and be given the same confidence to move forward. Moreover, by having clear performance metrics for each individual and evaluating their progress with their manager or coach at least once a month, the issue of perceived barriers will not exist. Everyone strives towards their own performance targets and they are rewarded by both variable pay and career progression. Any weaknesses are addressed quickly and individually. Such a culture does not leave room for unnecessary perceptions about gender handicaps.
Our Government has implemented policies and even provided funds and assistance to organisations in order to retain and call back women to re-join the workforce. In line with this objective, our Prime Minister has announced the Double Tax Incentive for compliant companies which will be launched in 2013, fund allocation and assistance for child care centres at organisations, a microsite to connect women with companies that have jobs with flexible work arrangements and support facilities, and other incentives are in the pipeline. What else can the government do to encourage companies to attract and retain women in the workforce?
We believe one of the biggest challenges facing working parents today is the availability of well established, high-quality child care centers. There needs to be stricter guidelines and enforcement to ensure proper care and safety of the children at these centers. Parents should be able to leave their children at child care centers, knowing that they are in good hands. This will provide parents peace of mind and enable them to focus on their work. Another important factor is accessibility. Having child care centers within close proximity of the workplace would cut down commuting time and boost productivity.
Another item the government should look into is improving the speed of Malaysia's broadband infrastructure. This will boost our efforts in providing flexible work arrangements for our employees. To effectively work from home, there must be fast, reliable and affordable connectivity. We applaud the initiative to have the high-speed Unifi deployed. However, this remains expensive and unavailable in many residential areas. If employees, especially mothers, opt to work from home but know they will be handicapped by the speed of the broadband connection, they may scale down their career plans, or end up leaving the workforce altogether. High-speed connectivity is a necessity if workplace virtualization is to be effective.