BUDGET 2018 offers great reasons for women to celebrate. In his speech to announce the budget, Prime Minister-cum-Finance Minister I Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak described 2018 as the year to empower women and directed that 30% of members of the board of directors in GLC, GLIC and statutory bodies must be women.
Before this, BBC News on Sept 6 had reported that Malaysia plans to publish the names of companies with no women on their board next year, and those firms risk losing government contracts. This was from a speech by Najib about women and the economy.
BBC News further reported that Asia trails Europe and the US in boardroom diversity and has few policies to achieve more balance.
In Malaysia, women currently make up 14% of board members, according to a Deloitte survey which tracked gender diversity on boards in 44 countries. While low in global terms, that still tops the list in Asia. In Japan, only 4% of board members are women, in South Korea 2.5%.
Najib’s commitment towards achieving gender equality is truly inspiring and very encouraging.
As a guest of the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, I attended the national Women’s Day celebration and also the TN50 dialogue for women last August. It was the first time a TN50 dialogue was organised to gather input from women on their aspirations for 2050 in Najib’s presence. After listing about 18 inputs from the participants, he said he would consider them, especially the proposals relating to policy.
It is within this context that I offer the following recommendations relating to policy development in the nuclear sector. Women’s entry into and participation in as well as promotion to decision-making and leadership roles in the nuclear sector has not progressed in tandem with the great strides achieved by Marie Curie and several other prominent women scientists.
The nuclear industry remains a male domain with generally only 20% of the workforce being women. As a case in point, the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) reported that women make up 11% to 24% of Britain’s nuclear workforce. According to PwC, more than two-thirds of Britain’s biggest 100 energy companies fail to count a single woman on their boards. In the nuclear industry, only eight women hold board positions out of the 100 available.
In Malaysia, a woman, Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, holds the portfolio of nuclear power planning in the Prime Minister’s Department and is responsible for the Malaysia Nuclear Power Corporation (MNPC). The chair of the MNPC Board is also a distinguished female civil servant. In the regulatory agency women make up more than 30% of its senior management however there is no women on its board. In nuclear R&D more than 20% of its workforce are female however there are no women in the top management position.
Globally, there are serious concerns over the low representation of women in the nuclear sector and several key conferences and workshops have been organised to discuss the issue and share best practices towards finding the solutions.
In recognition of the important role of women in the nuclear industry, the International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century is convening a special presentation on the vital role for women in nuclear power today in Abu Dhabi. Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi, vice-chairwoman of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, is expected to deliver the presentation.
Since Malaysia is serious in its commitment to promote high-tech industries, it is vital for the Government to consider introducing quotas for women in science and technology, and research and development as well.
An urgent first step would be to enhance women’s participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, career and business.
Secondly, science and technology-based companies, organisations and research institutes, particularly in the ICT, biotech and nuclear sectors such as MNPC, Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) and Nuclear Malaysia, and universities offering nuclear-related courses including nuclear engineering, nuclear science and technology, could be encouraged to compile statistics relating to the gender make-up of their board members and workforce in management at both senior and mid-level positions and other categories of employees including researchers and heads of research teams.
Thirdly, initiate a survey on women in high-tech sectors to compile a database on their participation in these industries. This database could be used as inputs for policy formulation aimed at enhancing women’s participation in and contribution to Malaysia’s high-tech industry.
The Government should also introduce a policy for women in the high-tech sector to offer a fair and equitable opportunity for them to contribute their best to the nation’s high-tech development and innovations.
SHERIFFAH NOOR KHAMSEAH AL-IDID DATUK SYED AHMAD IDID
Member, Women in Nuclear
Global, Innovation and Nuclear Advocate