By Sharmila Valli Narayanan
Highly qualified women are leaving the Malaysian workforce in high numbers, prompting some to declare this phenomenon the internal brain drain. Compared to our neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Singapore, Malaysia has a low level of women in the workforce. According to the World Bank – Malaysia Economic Monitor November 2012 Report, the labour force participation rate among women in Malaysia is 46 per cent. When compared to countries like Singapore (60 per cent) and Thailand (70 per cent), our numbers are quite dismal.
In mid-2012, ACCA and Talent Corporation Malaysia (TalentCorp) did a joint survey to find the reasons behind the low participation of Malaysian women in the labour force. Titled Retaining Women In the Workplace, the report released in August 2013 is one of the most comprehensive surveys of recent times that looked at the issues faced by women at the workplace. Fifty companies participated in the survey.
The survey found that the top three reasons women left their job were because they wanted to concentrate on raising their family, a lack of work-life balance, and to take care of a sick family member.
Other interesting findings were:
- An overwhelming majority of female respondents on a career break – 93 per cent – had considered re-entering the workforce. Sixty three per cent found it difficult to do so.
- Only 30 per cent of the respondents’ workplace offered flexible work arrangements.
- Despite the large numbers of women – many of them mothers — in the workplace, childcare support facility at workplace is offered by a shockingly small number of employers. Only seven per cent of employers have some kind of childcare support facility in place.
The survey results show that corporate Malaysia is not doing enough to retain women in the workforce. And what do women want? The survey reveals women want flexible work arrangements so that they can juggle their family commitments. Despite all the progress women have made, women are still the main caregivers to the family. Women, especially working mothers, want support for mothers at work as well as equal opportunities with men.
Is corporate Malaysia ready to do its part for women? As Johan Mahmood Merican, CEO of TalentCorp, tells Business Circle, corporate Malaysia “needs to do more to retain women in the workforce, not for welfare reasons but because it is good for business and it is the right thing to do”.
Recognising champions of women
Realising the need to recognise and celebrate the companies that do provide women with excellent opportunities for advancement and offer benefits that help retain women in the workforce, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development has partnered with TalentCorp for the Life at Work Award. The inaugural Life at Work Award was given during the Women’s Summit to the top three employers “with leading workplace strategies that demonstrate commitment to assist employees achieve better success at work and in their personal lives by promoting diversity, work-life balance and flexible work arrangements.”
Companies were invited to share their workplace practices that enable their employees to achieve work-life integration. Twenty one companies ranging from MNCs to Malaysian conglomerates took part.
Judging was based in the area of diversity and inclusion, public opinion on employer’s commitment to provide a diverse and inclusive workplace (with evidence of strong participation of women in decision-making positions), flexible work arrangements and having parent-friendly practices to enable employees who want to combine successful careers with being a parent.
Three companies came out tops as companies that promoted diversity at work and helped their female employees achieve work-life balance and success at work via workplace strategies. The three companies were CIMB, IBM and Nestle (Malaysia) Bhd.
Tomorrow: Nestle and its winning policies on retaining women and promoting a better work-life balance among its staff.