In light of International Women’s Day on 8 March, The Peak asks Malaysia’s prominent corporate women what more can be done to accelerate gender parity in the working environment.
Text by Diana Khoo
Executive Director, Berjaya Corporation
Let’s talk about the proverbial glass ceiling. What are your thoughts?
The proverbial glass ceiling generally refers to an unseen yet unbreakable barrier that keeps women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, irrespective of their qualifications and achievements. I, however, believe that women are in control of their own destiny and career. When I started out, it was still very much a male-dominated world. Like most women, I had to juggle between building my career and motherhood. As long as you know how to balance these two priorities, there is no necessity to drop off the employment circuit to care for family and, likewise, there is no stopping women from advancing at the workplace. Over the years, I have seen many women being mentored and promoted to senior positions in their organisations, mostly by their male bosses! I think as long as we work hard and are dedicated to our careers, we will be recognised and rewarded accordingly, irrespective of gender. I have never believed in demanding for career advancement or making it a requirement for staying on with my employer. And I certainly do not wish to be promoted just to fulfil a mandatory requirement or target set by the authorities. I want to have earned it and be recognised because of my own achievements and capabilities. And in my company, where I have worked the last 26 years, I must say women are given equal recognition and opportunities to move up the corporate ladder, so for me, at least, the glass ceiling is just proverbial.
YONG MEI TSIN
Executive Director, Getha
What do you think can or should be done to accelerate gender parity?
Creating more equal opportunities. I’m fortunate enough to have always been treated with the same respect as any other male, but what I believe lacks, not only for the gender gap issue but also for minorities, is that there aren’t enough opportunities. Sometimes, when they arise, I think that our society has been conditioned to overlook women because we are clouded by this notion that they are weaker than men. Look at the finance sector and engineering – these sectors are dominated by males and it’s not because they are more capable than women. These are seen to be ‘serious’ industries and people don’t want to risk the ‘mistake’ of giving such heavy responsibility to ‘frivolous, emotional and delicate’ girls. A person’s value and capability is not subjected to gender, ethnicity, religion or even age. Opportunities should be free to anyone but, most importantly, free of prejudice.
NG SHEAU YUEN
Director, De Beers Diamond Jewellers
What more, do you think, can be done to promote gender parity?
Other than enforcing regulations on listed companies to have a certain percentage of women sit on their Boards, we need more effort from the government, private sector and women in positions of influence themselves to ensure they are equipped to face the right expectations at the workplace, as well as to set up more quality care centres for children and the elderly. This goes hand in hand with flexible work schedules and fair remuneration programmes. It’d also be good to hear from other successful women who have managed to raise and educate their children well, while advancing in their own career and balancing that with a happy marriage and household. There are so many different aspects that need to be taken care of in business and family, with not every role necessarily gender-dependent. It should, instead, be based on what the individual is capable of and interested in contributing. Spelling out what sacrifices, compromises, job scope and expectations are more important than letting it all fall under a ‘gender’ issue.
DATO’ DR JESSIE TANG
Founder & Group CEO, East West One Group
What do you think will be the main challenges ahead?
Compared to the younger generation, the older one tends to be less receptive to changes in way of life and in accepting new ideas, and this could be a potential challenge in bridging the gender gap. However, with the younger generation constantly applying positive pressure to change for the better by leveraging on the Internet, I foresee the gender gap narrowing in the near future. That said, the younger generation should also proactively work towards bridging the issue by spending more time with their parents to create a stronger bond at home in order to better understand both genders. When this is achieved, they will be better able to express their thoughts and feelings in respect of both genders, and, hence, bridge the gap.
Executive Director, Titijaya Land Berhad
What are your thoughts regarding the ‘glass ceiling’?
Traditionally, there has always been some level of gender discrimination between men and women. Consciously or not, a man has always been perceived as the breadwinner and the woman as homemaker. That has been the perception of a traditional home or family. In the corporate world, many employers still consider factors like capability based on gender or leadership, maternity leave and such. However, over time, I believe things have slowly changed and there is an increasing number of women sitting on the top rungs of the corporate ladder, with some good examples being PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi, Sheri McCoy, the CEO of Avon, the world’s biggest direct seller of beauty products, Hillary Clinton and, on the home front, socio-political activist and writer, Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, who also has been President of the Malaysian AIDS Council for over a decade. Hence, I believe that long-hanging ‘glass ceiling’ doesn’t exist anymore, but is an unconscious excuse used by both genders when situations arise. Women today are as capable and can be just as successful as men. It is a matter of building one’s own skills, expertise and commitment in getting the job done. At the end of the day, the only thing that is limiting or stopping you is yourself!
DATIN SUNITA RAJAKUMAR
Chairperson, Caring Pharmacy Group Berhad
What do you think will be the main challenges for and against bridging the gender gap?
Rapid urbanisation and a higher cost of living, coupled with a competitive workplace, are resulting in a complex living environment for many women. Without traditional family support, the increased need for double incomes and long commutes to work – I know a couple who shuttle weekly from Kuala Lumpur, where their children live, to Singapore, where they work – can make it difficult for a working mother to give her best to her career. Sure, we want to encourage employers to provide conducive and supportive workplaces, but the government is the stakeholder which stands to benefit the most from having half the potential workforce functioning effectively in the economy, especially where, increasingly, this also makes up the better and more educated half. There is no shortage of possible initiatives on how we can facilitate more women in the workplace and the private sector should work closely with various government agencies to enable this.