Women in Workforce: It's not about preferential treatment

Contrary to popular belief, flexibility in work arrangements rather than salary maybe key for women in the workforce.

TERRY LEONG
30 May 2024 08:39am
Image by Sinar Daily.
Image by Sinar Daily.
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THE advantage of having more women in the workforce has long been recognised around the globe.

As early as in the 1940s, the role of women in a nation’s development and growth was acknowledged. It has often been quoted that “Women hold up half the sky”.

Indeed, having women in an organisation can help improve its processes and boost collaboration. Women bring unique perspectives and solutions, they also bring unique talents and life experiences, as well as emotional connections.

Researchers have found that women have stronger skills when it comes to reading non-verbal cues.

This combination of male-female strengths makes the workplace stronger, richer, and, to a great extent, more productive.

In late 2023, the Women, Family, and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri announced that the government is embarking on a series of initiatives aimed at increasing female labour participation from the current 56.2 per cent to a target of 60 per cent.

Yet, in the First Quarter of 2024, Khazanah Research Institute reported that gender disparities persist in the transition from education to the workforce, hampering diversity in the workplace.

In fact, higher share of male enter work right after graduation when compared with their female counterparts.

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According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), as of February 2024, Malaysia’s female labour force participation rate stands at 56.5 per cent, while the male labour force participation rate is 83.1 per cent.

It is known that women face several vulnerabilities which impede their long-term participation in the labour force.

What then can employers and governments do to level the playing field so that half of a nation’s population is not held back while fulfilling their role as nurturers and caregivers?

Employers may view women with family obligations as possible detractors for future performance. This unjustly impedes their opportunities for advancement.

By creating more inclusive and supportive workplaces for women that address the challenges they face, employers are investing in the future of their corporations and human resource development.

Workers’ motivation and talent retention need not be an uncompromising uphill task. Availability of creches such as this will provide women with peace of mind at work and go a long way in female staff retention.

- Flexible Work Arrangements -

Contrary to popular belief, flexibility in work arrangements rather than salary maybe key for women in the workforce.

This is as women balance caregiving responsibilities, childcare obligations, and other time commitments outside of work. In this respect, employers can benefit from offering more out-of-the-box job opportunities to women.

Flexible scheduling, permanent remote work options and even part-time work can make a big difference in attracting and retaining women.

For businesses, flexible work arrangements will help companies adjust to workload fluctuations and avoid the costly side effects of being over or understaffed.

For women, such options can help fill potential gaps in their résumés, build their networks of connections and explore new professional opportunities. This will result in a win-win arrangement for all.

- Supportive Eco-System -

Building a supportive eco-system that allow women to showcase their potential as professionals without having to sacrifice their role as caregivers and mothers should be given serious considerations by employers and Governments.

Be it professional development and reskilling or subsidised daycare centres in the private sector or financial aid for women entrepreneurs offered under various government entrepreneurial programmes, a supportive eco-system goes a long way in helping women to strike a balance in their professional and private lives.

According to the McKinsey Women in the Workforce 2022 report, burnout is escalating more quickly among women than among men.

The report says that "one in three women... have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce... Additionally, four in ten women have considered leaving their company or switching jobs."

Putting in place a supportive eco-system must not be viewed as according women preferential treatment. Rather, it is about recognising their worth, skills, experience, and contributions.

It is about exercising corporate compassion, support, and flexibility to empower female employees to carry out their multiple roles without feeling threatened, inadequate, and incompetent. It is about helping women grow and advance in their career.

Very importantly, it is also about ensuring that the positive influence of women is felt in the Malaysian workplace.

The same McKinsey Women in the Workforce 2022 report found that companies with more than 30 per cent female executives tended to outperform companies with 10% to 30 per cent female leaders, and those companies outperformed companies with fewer or no women executives.

We urge all parties to acknowledge the needs and potential contributions of women and tap that pool of talents and skills. With mindful intentionality, we can build up women to realise the full potential of their multiple roles as daughter, wife, mother, professional and entrepreneur.

“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live” says Pope John Paul II. And it is undeniable that the heart of the family is the woman of the house.

Terry Leong is the Chief Executive Officer of World Vision Malaysia. The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.