The best companies for women to work in Malaysia: Nestle’s winning strategy

Nestle employees taking part in a tree-planting activity at the Forest Research Institute in Kepong, Kuala Lumpur.Nestle employees taking part in a tree-planting activity at the Forest Research Institute in Kepong, Kuala Lumpur.

By Sharmila Valli Narayanan

Recognising the importance of retaining women in the workforce, the Ministry of  Women, Family and Community Development in partnership with Talent Corporation Malaysia (TalentCorp) have introduced the Life at Work Award which is given to the top three employers that promote diversity in their companies and help their female employees achieve work-life balance and success at work. One of the companies that won the inaugural Life at Work Award is Nestle (Malaysia) Berhad.

Walk into Nestle’s office in Menara Surian and immediately one can feel the stress level drop a notch. The lobby is bright and airy with a beautiful view of the surrounding Mutiara Damansara area. Known as “chill out” area (pic), there are colourful chairs for employees to sit when they need a break from work or during lunch, or to receive visitors.

When I visited the company, it was a hive of activity. Nestle had just launched a programme to help employees lose weight and become more healthy. There was a series of programmes lined up at a subsidised price to encourage its staff to take better care of their health.

Nestle occupies nine floors in the building. It encourages its employees to walk up or down between floors instead of taking the lift. This improves their fitness level and also reduces congestion in the lifts. Colourful murals with encouraging words painted on the walls bring a smile to the person trudging along the stairs and make the walk more interesting. All stairs have railings and employees are strictly advised to hold on to the railings for their safety.

“Winning the Life at Work Award was a pleasant surprise for us,” says Zainun Nur Abdul Rauf, executive director, group corporate affairs. “We only entered at the last minute and we did not think we would win. Nestle feels good about being recognised for its efforts to retain women in the workforce. I hope this award encourages more companies to have women-friendly policies to retain women in the workforce. The country needs women in the workforce,” she says.

What impressed the judges about Nestle were some of its policies such as high percentage of women in decision making positions, flexible working hours, extended maternity leave, infant feeding scheme for mothers and flexible benefits plan.

Gender diversity is part of the company’s performance metrics, explains Zainun. “Women comprise 42 per cent of the company’s workforce. Fifty per cent of our top management is women. For other key positions headed by men, nearly 50 per cent of them must have a woman as a successor.”

Flexi-hours and extended maternity leave

Nestle adopts flexible working hours. The official working hours are 9.30am to 4.30pm. However, the company does not believe in employees clocking in and clocking out. As long as the employee clocks in the required time for the week, he or she can come in later or earlier. This is especially attractive to mothers (and fathers) who sometimes need time off to attend to home matters or take a sick child to the clinic.

Another family-friendly policy is the extended maternity leave. If a mother wants to take another month of maternity leave (in addition to the normal 60 days) she can do so at 80 per cent of her salary. There are also breastfeeding rooms where mothers can express their breast milk in a safe and quiet environment. Although Nestle produces infant formula, it encourages mothers to give priority to breastfeeding. Only if they are not able to breastfeed should they turn to infant formula. “The company has made it mandatory to have the breastfeeding room in all its premises, including the factories or wherever there are women working,” says Zainun.

That’s not all. Mothers who can’t breastfeed are, upon their return to work, eligible for free infant formula for up to one year. Mothers who breastfeed are eligible for nutritional supplementary products like Milo, free of charge, for one year as well.

Nestle has also a flexible benefits plan that “offers choice and flexibility to its employee” to utilize their benefits in a manner that meets their individual needs. If they have a minimum of five days of annual leave left over, the untaken leave can be converted and redeemed to pay for childcare, holiday or electronic gadgets.

The company also offers annual leave up to 24 days per year. It is compulsory for employees to take at least five leave days in a stretch. This is to ensure that they get adequate rest.

It is not surprising that policies such as these enable Nestle to retain a high percentage of women. Nestle’s women-friendly policies have not hurt its production or profit either. “We need family-friendly policies that are attractive to women. Because we are able to retain a high percentage of women, we know we are going in the right direction,” says Zainun.

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