Women in the corporate world: Step up, don’t step back!


When women return to the workforce, we can truly rock the world!

Women in the corporate world

TalentCorp CEO Johan Merican says that Malaysia must get women back into the workforce to ensure the country’s continued progress.

By Vinodhani Nair

Brain drain, lack of talent and enticing foreign talent into the country have pretty much been the order of the day as the country strives towards its ambitious goal of becoming a high-income nation come 2020. And why not, since talent is what is going to take us from where we are today to a better state of economic prosperity in seven years’ time.

However, while we lament about the talent that have left the country, we sometimes fail to realise that there is a much larger pool of talent right here in our midst that is sorely overlooked. By this, we mean the women folk of our country.

To put a perspective on things, Talent Corp Malaysia shared some very staggering figures at a recent Industry Speaks event entitled Women rising to the top – what’s holding you back? Apparently, the country currently suffers from a brain drain of about a million people who have left Malaysia seeking greener pastures elsewhere although some believe that the grass is greener on the Malaysian side. However the ‘scarier’ number has to be the number of women who have left the workforce which currently stands at 1.3 million.

Johan MericanSaid TalentCorp CEO Johan Merican: “We must get them (women) back into the workforce; they are such an important pool of talent for the country’s continued progress.”

While we all know that close to sixty per cent of students in the public universities are women and with many entering the workforce thereafter, we also know that many leave when family commitments and maternal duties call. In fact, it has been said that there is a steady decrease of women participation within the workforce as they enter childbearing years. And on management boards in Malaysia, women representation is believed be around the six per cent mark, despite the government’s call of at least 30 per cent.

Johan also shared that women leaving the workforce is a pressing issue in most other South East Asian countries – and not unique only to Malaysia.

While these were insightful revelations, many corporate leaders in Malaysia, namely other women, believe that such situations may be “rectified” with “creative solutions” to circumvent the exodus of this crucial pool of resource.

PricewaterhouseCoopers senior executive director Chin Suit Fang said that diversity is key to address such challenges. “At the end of the day, it is a business issue that concerns talent retention,” she said.

Sharing the same sentiment is GE Malaysia human resources director Sugunah Verumandy who believes that women feel compelled to leave the workforce due the many concerns they have; such as the burden of work and family live balance, lack of family friendly organisation policies and the need to be available for work anytime, anywhere. She is almost certain that, when these issues are addressed, many women would feel compelled to return to the workplace.

More and more organisations are beginning to recognise the importance of keeping women in their pool of talent and have started to make the paradigm shift – may that be in their mindset and/or corporate policies – to encourage women to stay, contribute and excel in their chosen vocation. And even if they do leave, there should be incentives in place to draw them back into the workforce.

PWC and GE Malaysia are two proactive companies who have gone out of their way to retain women in their workforce. Among initiatives that have been enacted by both companies are allowing women to go off on a break for a few months to attend to their families, providing them with flexible working hours and improvising on conventional work management policies to being more broad-based.


Photo credit:   Mohd Yusof Abdul Ghani

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