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 this situation?
Although our 2011 ranking is below compared to some of our neighbouring countries in respect of workforce participation but if we look closer to the subindex such as educational attainment, our score is actually higher than those countries. This clearly shows that women in Malaysia have higher literacy rate and better educated than their peers in the region. Ironically, our women representation in the workforce does not correspond with higher educational attainment index.
There are many reasons to why low participation of women in the Workforce in Malaysia. Primary reason is that they found it difficult to balance work and domestic responsibilities, which are illustrated as follows:
- Deep-seated cultural views that women must give priority to the family, including managing the children, elderly and household chores.
- lack of flexibility in the current work system whereby an employee is commitment is gauged by whether he/she is available "anytime and anywhere". Most women find it hard to juggle work-life balance.
- Women at mid-career level exit their jobs voluntarily when they started family or have children due to the absence of proper infrastructure such as childcare. Some of them may return to the workforce when the children are older but majority of the women in Malaysia stay out and never to return. This leaking pipeline at the mid career level is serious and a major investment loss on women by organisations.
We need to examine the issues carefully and adopt a holistic approach to tackle this situation. Government & organisations need to work together to come out with set of enablers to increase women participation in the workforce or to ease women's progress through the organisation. These include tax, subsidy or incentive from the government in support of mechanism such as help to establish childcare facilities, working from home, longer maternity leave, women development programs which equip women with skills and raise their ambition and profile while organisation should adopt more flexible working hours and result -oriented performance evaluation instead of hours-worked.
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 are aware that women will bring different perspective and voices to the table to debate and to the decisions, which will complement the men very well. Gender diversity in management team will help us better understanding of our customers and stakeholders and to benefit from fresh perspective, new ideas, vigorous challenge and broad experience. In Sunway Group, we already have high participation of women in the workforce and management team. Certain industries such as Education & Healthcare, women overwhelm men at almost every level including senior management team. Clearly, the examples in Education and Healthcare have proven that strong women representation brought about positive impact to business performance judging from their strong financial results.
Nowadays, flexible work arrangements (FWA) 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?
Women represent about half of our workforce which provide vital talent pipeline for us to leverage in order to remain competitive and respond to rapidly changing expectations and market demands. We always subscribe to meritocracy philosophy in providing equal opportunity for career advancement and reward irrespective of gender, creed or ethnic. On the systems/tools to attract women on career hiatus to rejoin the workforce, we need to study the various options seriously before we decide what best work for us.
At this stage, we are exploring the suitability of flexible work arrangements and establishment of support facilities. However, in view of the multiple industries/businesses that we are in it is important for us to align the expectation of the industry and profession with the individual aspiration. However, corresponding support and assistance from the Government in term of tax, subsidy and incentive will lesser organisational financial burden in implementing these initiatives.