Where are we today?
According to Towers Watson’s Global Norm Database, women are still a minority in the workplace, especially in leadership positions, making up just 27% of managers globally. Malaysia experiences the same gender disparity, with women making up 31% of managers, despite the Government’s efforts to empower women.
Malaysia has seen the rise of female labour force participation, from 46.8% in 2010 to 53.6% in 2014, with the 10th Malaysia Plan’s agenda to promote gender diversity in the workplace.
Recently, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak launched the 30% Club in Malaysia to increase the representation of women on corporate boards. Our success as a nation that promotes gender equality relies on our ability to overcome challenges. Below are some of the major issues facing women in the workplace.
The challenges we face
Women in leadership roles
Client interviews conducted by Towers Watson have shown that the representation of women in leadership and in the boardrooms ranks highly on the agenda of companies in the Asia-Pacific region. Nevertheless, in the global companies represented in the Towers Watson 2014 norm database study, on average, only three out of 10 managers are women.
According to the study, empowerment – specifically, involvement in decisions concerning them – is a crucial global driver of engagement for women leaders.
Balance and stress at work
Many women from various levels of the organisation face difficulties with workload (48% of women disagreed that workloads were manageable). The Towers Watson 2014 norm study revealed that women’s work engagement was more drastically affected by work-life balance and stress, compared with men, especially at the non-managerial level. The differences in engagement drivers identified in the study suggested that both genders are “locked” in fairly traditional gender roles early in their careers. While women focus on the collective (building relationships and the company image), men tend to focus more on empowerment and career.
Caring about diversity and inclusion
The Towers Watson study also queried employees on their level of inclusion in the organisation. Employees with favourable opinions regarding management’s support for diversity, equal opportunity, and a working environment that fosters mutual respect were rated as highly included.
In Malaysia, both men and women tend to feel less included than their counterparts elsewhere in the world, with almost four in 10 employees reporting that they felt left out.
This inclusion gap hits Malaysian women the hardest; as women tend to be less favourable than men about the specific factors that drive their engagement.
Although work-life balance is essential, other specific (and equally impactful) engagement drivers for women include working relationships, empowerment, career development, and benefits. The data show that women were more negative about work-life balance as well as adequacy of benefits – topics that likely impact their sense of inclusion at work.
What awaits us tomorrow?
Fostering an inclusive culture with authentic leadership
Men and women are both more engaged with an inclusive culture supported by authentic leaders and managers. Towers Watson research suggests that the top driver of sustainable engagement for men and women is Authentic Leadership – which is a form of leadership where the manager:
- Takes interest in the well-being of employees.
- Runs the company with integrity, always “walking the talk” when it comes to company values.
- Treats employees with respect.
This is in line with the study which states that the immediate manager is one of the top three drivers of retention in Malaysia. To cite an alarming trend, retention risks are higher in Malaysia compared with the global average: Malaysian employees are 10% more likely to say they will leave their employer within the next two years (36% vs. 26% globally).
Hence, the development of inclusion-focused Authentic Leaders is desperately needed in companies of today.
Providing flexible work arrangements
Some of the primary factors preventing women from truly engaging in their work are, as mentioned, balance and stress. Companies that foster inclusion and sustainable engagement are active in providing programmes that enable flexible work hours, flexible benefits that fit the needs of different employee groups, as well as opportunities to return to the workforce after taking career breaks.
With the issues and concerns of women clearly laid out, together with tried-and-tested solutions employed by notable companies, it is imperative that we – as employees, managers, or business owners – put in the best of efforts (and creative thought) into making gender equality a reality.