The way forward: Empowering women to return to work and rise to the top

It is said that women are the main driving force behind decades of growth. Countries in the region, that have done the most to tap women’s talents and capacities, have travelled furthest in many aspects of human development. 

In Malaysia, the Government’s efforts to improve access to education has enabled more women to graduate from local universities. In fact, women comprise more than 63% of graduates with degrees or diplomas*. However, many drop off the workforce in their late 20s or early 30s due to work-life balance complications. The World Bank** attributes this to women being caught in a “double burden” syndrome of taking of managing both the home and caring for their children or the elderly.

More worrying is that in Malaysia, we have a “single-peaked” profile; once these women leave the workforce, they never return. In contrast, other countries in Asia such as Japan and Korea have a “double-peaked” profile; after the initial decline in labour participation from late 20s, there is a recovery in participation towards the late 30s.

If the situation continues, Malaysia will lose a large talent pool and face a definite talent crunch. Recognising this, the Prime Minister YAB Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak announced in June 2010 a national target of 55% Female Labour Participation Rate (FLPR) by 2015, and a 30% target of women in decision-making roles in the corporate sector by 2016.

Since then, the Government has introduced various measures to increase FLPR including encouraging more employers to adopt Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA), promoting childcare facilities, introducing career comeback programme for women and supporting the development of women entrepreneurs.

The Government has also encouraged the corporate sector to strive for greater gender inclusiveness, especially at leadership and top management levels. Starting 2014, all public-listed corporations (PLCs) were required to establish and disclose in their annual reports their diversity policies, covering gender, ethnicity and age for board and management. In April this year, the Prime Minister announced that the policy and disclosure of management and workforce composition be made mandatory for all PLCs.

At a recent Women in the Workforce Dialogue organised by TalentCorp, the Prime Minister announced that Malaysia is making headway in increasing the number of women in the workforce and in decision-making roles in the corporate sector.

Malaysia’s FLPR climbed to 54.1% in 2015 from 46.8% in 2010. The 7.3 percentage point increase translates into an additional 750,000 women entering the workforce, bringing with them an “additional annual GDP growth of 0.3 percentage points”, shared the Prime Minister.

At the dialogue, he met with several professional women – mothers who left the workforce for various reasons and returned to work successfully thanks to TalentCorp’s Career Comeback Programme. Also present were supportive employers whose family-friendly policies helped to attract these educated women professionals to return and pursue their career aspirations.

The Prime Minister also announced that Malaysia is on track to meet the 30% target of women in decision-making role in the corporate sector by 2016.

“Based on annual returns compiled by Bursa Malaysia across all PLCs in 2015, women held 26.3% of top management positions across PLCs. However, this percentage increased to 28.4% for women in top management positions in the top 100 PLCs (representing a market capitalisation of 82%),” he shared.

An inclusive Malaysian workforce will ensure we are sufficiently competitive to grow into a developed economy. Still, there is much good that can be done. With the continued collaborative spirit between the public and private sectors towards building a diverse Corporate Malaysia, we will make good strides in arriving at our goals of developed nation status by 2020.

Source: Talent Corp. Date: 29 June 2016