Achieving gender parity in the workplace

SUPPORT for gender empowerment where women gain control over their own lives, is an important step towards achieving gender parity in the workplace and wider society.

Lower gender parity where each gender is represented equally, in boardrooms can be attributed to a lack of leadership development for women.

It also points to an inadequate support system that should have mentors guiding them throughout their professional journeys.

All private companies should have at least 30% of their senior leadership, comprising women where at least 30% should be represented on all boards of directors by 2025, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had said at the launch of the International Women’s Day event in Kuala Lumpur.

“We have seen the benefits of diversity and correlation between better corporate performance and diversity on boards which includes gender,’’ said Institute of Corporate Directors Malaysia (ICDM) president and CEO Michele Kythe Lim.

The Board Diversity Study and Index, which was launched by ICDM in 2021, can be used as a platform for companies to promote and support the cause for better diversity on boards.

Listed companies, including government-linked companies and government-linked investment companies are starting to plan or have been implementing policies and practices to foster diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in their workplaces and boardrooms.

“Institutional investors certainly recognise the trend that companies with diversity are better-positioned to be more innovative and profitable,’’ said 30% Club Malaysia chair and Maybank adviser, business and sustainability Datuk Ami Moris.

The 30% Club had worked with the Institutional Investors Council which revised its Malaysian Code for Institutional Investors in 2022, to outline expectations for investee companies to have at least 30% women representatives on their boards within three years.

Although there are companies with more than 30% of women directors on their boards, there are only one or very few women at the senior management level.

“That is a lesson for us, and we want to step up and take the lead in the adoption of DEI practices by improving our internal processes and policies to promote inclusiveness,’’ said Khazanah Nasional managing director Datuk Amirul Feisal Wan Zahir.

Khazanah’s sustainability framework outlines that 30% of its board and senior management positions must be filled by women by 2025, and it expects its investee companies to follow suit.

Companies should have a structured mentorship and sponsorship programme that includes opportunities for women to sit on subsidiary boards.

The 30% Club has a board mentoring scheme where together with PwC, it has mentored 85 women since 2017, out of whom 40% have successfully secured board roles.

Companies should also understand their business case for DEI and not see it as a box-ticking exercise; the 30% Club has developed a framework as a guide for companies to kickstart their DEI journey.

Companies should be more open to including first-time directors and those in full-time employment on their boards.

ICDM is already seeing the needle move in terms of first-time women directors on listed companies.

It is continuing its efforts to improve the pool of capable directors, and as a result, women directors, through its independent director sourcing programme.

Many companies have become receptive but there are many more that feel compelled to bring on women directors due to the push by Bursa Malaysia and the Securities Commission.

It is important to make it part and parcel of company culture to look at a woman director as a “person” and not her gender.

“There are also many capable women out there who do not feel confident to take on board positions and this could be due to cultural influences that a woman is not meant to hold leadership roles.

“This mindset has to change in both men and women for a better Malaysia,’’ said ICDM member Norliza Rasool Khan, who also sits on the board of Innity Corp.Diversity and inclusion

On DEI, we may have met the diversity and inclusion criteria but what will it take to reach gender equality?

“Kudos to the regulators for initiating the push; I look forward to living in an equitable society where meritocracy is recognised and practised while any prejudice or discrimination related to gender, culture or beliefs is eradicated,’’ said ICDM member Datuk Tengku Marina Tunku Annuar Badlishah, who sits on the boards of MISC Bhd, S P Setia Bhd and Westport Holdings Bhd.

The representation of women on boards in Malaysia today (one of the highest in the region), is a great base to build on – the critical mandate now is to demonstrate the value creation from the improvement in diversity.

“Ultimately, board diversity will lead to more inclusive and collective corporate governance, while positively impacting a company’s culture and helping the business maintain pace with rapidly evolving markets and consumer base,’’ said ICDM member Jennifer Thein, who sits on the board of UEM Edgenta Bhd.There is a persistent disconnect between achievement in education and economic equity held by women.

While Malaysia ranks 56th out of 143 countries for education attainment for women, it stands at 88th for economic participation, according to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2022.

McKinsey Global Institute estimated that if women’s participation in the labour force were equal to men, the gains in Gross Domestic Product would be a plus 36% or US$200bil (RM887.6bil) by 2025 for Malaysia.

Thus, we should work seriously especially to improve the economic aspect of gender empowerment.

Listed companies should also disclose gender pay gaps in key businesses and geographies, in which the Global Reporting Initiative provides a guide.

This is in addition to disclosing DEI numbers such as percentage of women in leadership and plans to close gaps.

Yap Leng Kuen is a former StarBiz editor. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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