Fostering gender diversity at the workplace

AS of March 2021, that the number of women holding senior leadership positions in Malaysia has hit 37% this year – the highest ever recorded despite the COVID-19 pandemic affecting economies around the world, revealed Grant Thornton’s annual Women in Business report.

The independent assurance, tax and advisory firm also showed that the Asean region made strides with the level of women participating in senior leadership, rising to 38% from 35% last year.

But here’s the biggest question: Has the COVID-19 pandemic, which has wreaked havoc in every aspect of our lives, thrown a wrench to this positive progress?

LeadWomen chairperson Anne Abraham certainly thinks so.

“The pandemic has had negative impact on the strides gained by women in the workforce. In fact, reports have indicated that a large percentage of those leaving the workforce due to job losses at this time are women,” she told FocusM.

Anne Abraham

“At the same time, you will also see many women rising up to the challenge during the pandemic to make tough decisions and displaying powerful leadership skills.”

LeadWomen is a consulting and training organisation that is committed to increasing women representation in corporate Malaysia through the advocacy, training and development, sourcing and placement of board-ready women in senior leadership positions.

Anne’s role as founder and chairperson of the organisation is focused on raising discussions on gender diversity as a strategic business agenda to ensure that the business case for gender diversity gain the buy-in and the support of business leaders who could make change happen.

“We focused our strategies on creating the demand for gender diversity by providing services to proactively facilitate positioning women for board vacancies, thus breaking the traditional search process of going through private ‘boys club’ networks.

“We prepared the supply by identifying board-ready women and putting them through training, mentoring and coaching, and strengthening their profiles, visibility and networks in the board circles,” Anne explained.

This year, LeadWomen was appointed by UN Women as their Malaysian partner to roll out the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) aligned to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality.

“Today, LeadWomen is positioning itself as a boutique Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Consulting organisation focused on efforts in equalising boardrooms and workplaces to create opportunities to thrive fairly.

“This means that we will continue to address barriers such as workplace harassment, gender pay gaps, transparent and bias-free recruitment, promotions, board appointment processes and women/family-friendly policies, which means we have a long way to go before we see equity in the workplace that should eventually evolve into equality.”

Referring to the Grant Thornton report, Anne opined that there is still much that needed to be done to put more women in senior leadership positions in the country.

“Companies need to start to move from just promoting gender diversity to ensuring that their workplaces are equitable and inclusive for women to progress.

“They need to go beyond diversity – they need to commit to clear goals, implement the relevant strategies and actions (policies and processes), measure the progress as well as report the achievements and values.”

Gender equality, Anne added, must be woven into the business strategy and not be seen as a silo initiative.

“It must be owned by the board and CEO and driven with clear KPIs and monitored accordingly. Sure, this is currently done, but only to comply to regulations.

“At the end of the day, this is not sustainable and will not yield business value,” she concluded. – Aug 6, 2021

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