IBM Malaysia’s Noorliza Abu Bakar is testament to the company’s ability to retain its women workforce, thanks in part to its work-life balance policies or, as it is known in the company, “work life integration”.
By Sharmila Valli Narayanan
The Life at Work Award was established by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development in partnership with Talent Corporation Malaysia (TalentCorp). One of the aims of this award is to give recognition to the companies that have women-friendly policies and are successful in retaining their female workforce.
The larger aim of the award is drive home the importance of retaining women in the workforce. Three top employers were chosen for this award and one of the winners of the inaugural Life at Work awards is IBM Malaysia. (Please refer to last Tuesday’s story on Nestle.)
Since doing this story, I have become somewhat an expert in finding out whether a company is employee-friendly or not. One of the signs to look out for is the ambience – whether it is the décor or the friendly staff. A well stocked and laid out pantry is another sign. Walk into IBM’s building in Bandar Utama and the visitor spots these two things immediately.
Since its incorporation in the United States in 1911, IBM has always been a trailblazer in terms of employment. “It was one of the first blue chip companies in the US to employ African-Americans and to promote women to high positions,” says Noorliza Abu Bakar, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO).
Noorliza is testament to the company’s ability to retain its women workforce, thanks in part to its work-life balance policies or, as it is known in the company, “work life integration”.
“IBM was one of those companies that was far sighted enough to realise the importance of work life integration in keeping staff morale high. When I was hired in 1984, it was already a part of the company’s culture,” she adds. IBM sees work life integration as bringing work into one’s life. This is not to say that life is work and vice versa, but that work is just one part of a person’s life; and it should be an enjoyable part.
IBM is one of few private companies that offers three-month paid maternity leave. Women are also given the option of taking one to two years of leave of absence from work and return to their former position.
The flexibility of working from home is one of the major attractions of IBM. Noorliza herself was a recipient of this benefit when her husband underwent a health crisis that required her to be by his side during his treatment. “I would be in the office from 9am till noon after which I would go home to attend to my husband. I would continue to work from home after I had attended to him. I had to do this for one month and the company understood my situation. The time off for me was invaluable as I could nurse my husband and at the same time do my work. If I had worked anywhere else, I probably would have had to give up my job,” relates Noorliza.
IBM has also created a nursing room within its premise (pic). This is where mothers can go to pump breast milk and store in the refrigerator. This room is very popular among new mothers, says Noorliza. New fathers are also not forgotten. They are eligible for one week paternity leave. IBM also takes into account its single employees. They are eligible to take time off to care for sick parents or siblings. The company’s to-die-for pantry is found in every level of the building. It also comes with a microwave oven and fridge.
Women are also heavily represented in the workforce. More than 50 per cent of the employees are women. Women also hold more than 50 per cent of the leadership positions in the company. There’s also a special day in a year when mothers are encouraged to bring their children to work. The company organises a special programme for the children where they are taken on a tour of the building. The children are able to see where the mother works and the kind of job that she does.
“Taking the Stage”
To groom future women leaders, there’s a programme called “Taking the Stage”. Talented women within the company are identified and sent for a two- to three-day training programme to hone their leadership skills. On a global scale, there’s the Business Relationship and Influence programme where women from different countries are picked and trained. They are taught the importance of speaking out, of being heard and on how to be influential.
These programmes and policies indicate the importance of women in IBM’s workforce and efforts it takes to retain them. People like Noorliza are proof that women-friendly companies stand to gain more when women stay with the company.
“IBM knows that its future is in the hands of its employees,” says Noorliza. “A happy person is a happy employee. And a happy employee would do the work to the best of their ability.”