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Women at the top

Over two decades after the United Nations set a 30% quota of women in top-level positions, ‘that highest and hardest glass ceiling’ remains intact after Hillary Clinton lost her bid to become the first US female president. Are women making headway here?

OUT of almost 200 Malaysians surveyed, more than half of the women, and 49% of men, think that women aren’t adequately represented in leadership positions, a specialist professional recruitment firm tells Sunday Star.

And 51% of the women surveyed feel that their organisation is lacking in fair and equal representation of female business leaders, shares Sally Raj, managing director of Robert Walters Malaysia.

Quoting the results of the latest Empower­ing Women in the Workplace white paper, she says only 39% of the respondents agreed that women made up more than 20% of leadership positions in their organisations.

Besides that, 48% of women here say their employers don’t have clear and enforced policies on gender diversity, equality and inclusion, she adds.

When asked to name the top three reasons why women are under-represented, the majority cited family pressures or commitments outside of work, while 27% attributed it to a workplace culture that does not actively foster diversity, inclusion and equality.

Sadly, 24% think management prefer promoting men over women.

Equal opportunities: Women want to deserve their position and be recognised for their capabilities, says Shareen

The Empowering Women in the Work­place white paper is based on a survey conducted in January this year to understand gender diversity perceptions across key markets in Asia Pacific. The survey gathered the views of over 4,400 clients and active job seekers across Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

The lack of female representation in top management is not unique to Malaysia, notes Talent Corporation Malaysia’s (TalentCorp) chief executive officer Shareen Shariza Datuk Abdul Ghani.

But she prefers to see female representation here as a glass half-full rather than half-empty. There are very qualified women in decision-making positions, she insists, though at the board level it’s a different story.

TalentCorp has to expose board members to more women talents so that they are comfortable and confident about having women on board, she says.

“We’re working with Bursa Malaysia to connect with chairmen of boards so that we can discuss women at board levels. We have qualified women who are competent and ready, so now it’s about generating demand. We have to raise their profile because they are not visible enough to be noticed.”

Agreeing with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong, Shareen says gender diversity targets are just to point us in the right direction – all promotions are still based on merit.

Women, she adds, don’t just want to be part of a quota, they want to deserve the position and be recognised for their capabilities.

On Oct 7, Dr Wee had stressed that Malaysia was able to break through the tradition of male-dominated roles due to the Government’s emphasis on merit and performance. While men and women can be equals in leadership positions, any post must be won on merit and not just to fulfil a quota, he had said.

Engaging talent: Raj emphasises inclusiveness in workplaces to create a dynamic atmosphere that is conducive for talent development.

According to Randstad’s recently released Q3 Workmonitor, however, Malaysians have the highest positive sentiment towards equality compared to Singapore and Hong Kong. We ranked second highest globally with employees feeling that gender equality increased with the seniority of the job, Randstad Malaysia country director Ryan Carroll shares.

“It’s great that Malaysian employees are quite confident that there are equal opportunities for both genders in the workplace. But these high numbers were affected by the strong sentiment of male employees. This positive sentiment could show a possible lack of understanding by men about the true sentiments of the situations of their female colleagues,” he cautions.

According to Raj, “Inclusiveness in any workplace is much needed to create a dynamic atmosphere conducive for talent development and engagement. Fresh ideas are constantly required to meet evolving market demands and help with problem solving and strategic planning.

“To realise the full potential of an organisation, business leaders must recognise the benefits of a diverse management team.”

Calling for gender diversity in the workplace, she says 66% of women credit a mentor or sponsor at the senior management level as the most helpful driver in empowering them to develop their careers.

Acknowledging that there may be an underlying assumption that women leaders are more detail-orientated while male bosses have macro-perspectives on managing work matters, Raj still believes that a company’s culture and business objectives can influence an individual’s leadership style too.

“In certain industries – like engineering or the military – that emphasise specialised or technical skills, employees might respond better to more masculine types of leadership.

“But a more feminine type of leadership style that focuses on empathy and collaboration might be preferred by employees functioning in a work environment like the sales and marketing industry, which values interpersonal and good communication skills,” she notes.

Every leader – regardless of gender, personality and career experience – has something valuable to offer to an organisation. Urging companies to move past gender stereotypes, she says it is important to harness positive traits from various leadership styles to motivate their staff and propel their business forward.

Shareen agrees, saying gender issues should not be a male versus female debate because that is when the barriers come up.

Women have different qualities compared to men. The fairer sex tends to be more detailed and have a greater sense of what they want to achieve.

“Talk about capabilities, competency and how we can contribute. Then gender bias won’t be such a big deal anymore. In the past, we talked about woman’s rights but that kind of language is no longer suitable.

“Women should be talking about what we can bring to the table and be bold enough to speak up. Employers, on the other hand, must look at the employee’s results and output instead of gender.”

A diverse workforce performs better and makes more financial sense for the company. So, rather than seeing diversity as “nice to have”, it should be viewed as a business imperative and encoded in the DNA of Corporate Malaysia, she opines.

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Career , women , glass ceiling , workforce , labour