During the 2017 Budget Speech, Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Razak emphasised on women’s role, saying: “Women are the backbone and bedrock of a nation’s development. Since days of old, warriors were not only males but also females.”
In 2015, Malaysia’s female labour force participation climbed up 7.3 percent from 46.8 percent in 2010, which translates to 750,000 more women entering the workforce. We’ve also seen an improvement of gender parity in management positions across top 100 public listed companies, with 28.4 percent of whom are women. [Source]
Along with the Government’s initiatives to empower women workers, employers also need to pay more attention to bridging the gender gap and improving equality in the workplace to retain female employees.
In conjunction with International Women’s Day (IWD) 2017, we would like to address the importance of equal opportunities for women in the workforce, especially in this ever-changing digital world.
Planet 50 – 50: Gender Equality
From the very beginning, the objective of International Women’s Day is to address gender equality, as delivered by writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman during the first American women march on February 28, 1909 in New York City:
“It is true that a woman’s duty is centered in her home and motherhood…[but] home should mean the whole country, and not be confined to three or four rooms or a city or a state.”
Regardless of their origins, women are constantly challenged by the social norms of what they are supposed to do (and what they are capable of), especially when it comes to career choices.
In today’s employment outlook, the top promising jobs that will dominate the hiring trends mostly come from tech and engineering fields. As a result, it is less likely for women to compete in the job market since they only make up 30% of information and communications technology (ICT) professionals and merely 2.7% are registered engineers in Malaysia. [source]
Females have to wrestle with gender biases since school-age as they have limited opportunities to gain exposure in the science stream, resulting in the lack of tertiary female students enrolled in science, technology, engineer, and mathematics (STEM), according to World Economic Forum’ Gender Gap report.
In the US where technology is at its fastest developing pace, women have seen no employment growth in one of these industries since 2002. Not only do females face challenges in seeking STEM jobs, gender inequality in the workplace also hinder their potential to achieve success in the field. Specifically, in ICT industry, median salary paid to women is 35 percent less than men [source].
In brief, gender equality is not just limited to fighting for women’s rights to participate in the labour market, it is about giving them equal opportunity to unleash their full potential in the workplace.
Therefore, it is important to create more opportunities for women to work in STEM fields in order to close workplace gender gaps by 2030 – a goal established by UN Women’s Planet 50-50: Step It Up for Gender Equality campaign.
What can we do to empower women in the changing workplace?
In Malaysia, there are only a handful of public initiatives to introduce women to the field of technology, but the main responsibility is upon the education system. We need to encourage school girls to explore their interest and potential in maths or computer studies.
In the words of Jamie Miller, CEO and President of GE Transportation: “Right from the very beginning we don’t set girls up to be in an environment where they’re encouraged to pursue science, technology, engineering or math-driven careers. I think it’s important that we start as early as possible in encouraging girls and letting them know that it’s ok to be excited about these industries.”
At the same time, employers need to offer equal employment opportunities to female applicants as well as to provide them with essential training for leadership roles. Companies need to also support female employees to overcome the obstacles at work as they have to fulfil a wife and mother’s duties as well.
To women, if you are interested to learn and develop tech skills, do check out Women Techmakers – Google’s global program launched in 2014 to empower women in the industry.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to follow your dreams and do what you love, as inspired by Emma Watson: “Feminism is about giving women choice… It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality.”
It takes individual effort to close the gender gap, not just in the workplace but also in all aspects of life.
Bonus: Highlights of Budget 2017 for working women and parents
- RM2 billion allocation for programmes such as I-KIT, I-KeuNita and Women Career Comeback.
- A sum of RM30 million is allocated for women to undergo mammography screening and receive Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination to prevent cervical cancer, for free.
- Working moms who are still breastfeeding are entitled to a new tax relief up to RM1,000 for purchase of breastfeeding equipment, claimable biennially effective year of assessment 2017.
- A tax relief of up to RM1,000 will be given to individual taxpayers who enrol their children aged 6 years and below, into registered nurseries and pre-schools, from the year of assessment 2017.[Source]
Happy International Women’s Day!