BY 2020, Malaysia aims to have at least 30% women in decision-making roles.
The policy to reduce gender imbalance and recognise women’s contributions, especially in publicly listed companies (PLCs), was introduced in 2011 under the 10th Malaysia Plan (2011-2015). The target was extended to 2020 in the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020).
While acknowledging that progress has been slow, Women, Family and Community Development Ministry Deputy Minister Datuk Azizah Mohd Dun insists that Malaysia is doing well in pressing forward.
When the policy was announced, only 7.7% of top corporate sector decision-makers were women. As at June this year, the figure stands at 11.5%. The public sector, however, has exceeded the target with an impressive 36% of women in top positions.
“The target is not easy to achieve. Even the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Germany and many other developed countries with a similar policy haven’t achieved their targets.
“But we won’t use this as an excuse. In fact, we’ll continue our efforts and learn from other countries to achieve our goal in the next four years.”
In the country’s overall labour force gender ratio, men outnumber women at 60:40. At the managerial level, the ratio of men to women stands at 70:30. At the executive level, women fare better with a higher ratio of 45:55.
Women must be given the opportunity to contribute to the national economy, Azizah points out.
Elaborating on the challenges in achieving the 30% target, she says there is a limited number of women in the talent pool. Only a small percentage hold senior decision-making positions. Making it worse is the culture of associating women with traditional roles.
Stressing on the need for a change in mindset and perception, she calls on boards of directors to be open to new talents.
“There’s still doubt over a woman’s ability to perform at the board level. Women also tend to be low-profile and lacking in self-confidence.
“And it doesn’t help that women lack visibility and networking in board circles. So, board placements are usually awarded to the current board members’ circle of acquaintances.”
It is important to look at the capabilities of a person, regardless of gender, to add value to the decision-making process of an organisation, she feels.
According to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, the Government has introduced measures to increase the Female Labour Participation Rate (FLPR) by providing tax incentives, encouraging more employers to adopt Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA), promoting family-friendly benefits such as childcare facilities and opening up opportunities for women on career breaks through TalentCorp’s Career Comeback programme.
“Through these initiatives, we have seen a steady increase in the FLPR from 47% in 2010 to 54% last year. This translates to an additional 700,000 women in the labour force.”
He was speaking at Talent Corporation Malaysia’s (TalentCorp) Life@Work Awards 2016 in Kuala Lumpur. Held on Oct 24, the ceremony recognised corporations that champion FWA as a strategy to maximise productivity and performance. During the event, TalentCorp also released its “Diversity in the Workplace 2015 report”, which analyses the top 100 PLCs here.
There has been substantial improvement in the number of women in top management positions in the top 100 PLCs that represent a market capitalisation of 82%, he shares.
Based on annual returns of these PLCs in 2015, women held 28% of top management positions compared to 24% in 2013. Three sectors – consumer products, property and financial services – have exceeded the 30% target of women in decision-making positions.
“The progress is significant, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. The analysis also found that 26% of the top 100 PLCs have no women representation at the board level, and 14% have no women representation in the top management positions,” he says, adding that studies show that companies that embrace workplace diversity – especially at the board level – do better than those that do not.
This is because people of different gender, age and ethnicity bring their unique perspectives and experiences to the table. These firms also enjoy a higher market share and may also make better decisions, Abdul Rahman says.
Supported by the Securities Commission, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry is taking a persuasive approach by engaging with companies to realise the 30% target which is imposed on government-linked companies, PLCs, statutory bodies and financial institutions.
“Companies must disclose their policies, targets and composition of women on their boards in the annual report. They have a five-year transition period to implement the 30% quota,” Azizah says, adding that the ministry also collaborates with stakeholders on programmes like the 30% Club.
The 30% Club is a joint project between the Government and the corporate sector to raise awareness among chairmen and business leaders about gender diversity benefits in an organisation.
Confident of achieving its target, the ministry is also stepping up efforts through the Women Directors’ Programme (WDP) and Advanced Women Directors Programme (AWDP).
While WDP equips women with technical and soft skills required in the boardroom, AWDP, which was introduced last year, focuses on leadership, principles, ethics, new risks and strategy.
“Human capital must be fully utilised if we are to become a high-income nation. Training, networking sessions and activities that add value for women must be implemented by the corporate sector,” Azizah opines.
Not mincing her words, she nevertheless reminds women that they themselves must have the desire and confidence to improve their capabilities and strive for success.