• Madani Sahari

GENDER EQUALITY - Rethinking the role of women in workplace

Statistics from the Ministry of Higher Education denote that in 2015, 54% of the total students enrolled in institutions of higher learning, comprising universities, polytechnics and community colleges - are female. Females also make up 43% of students enrolled in engineering or science and maths courses.

This is a clear demonstration of our nation’s progress towards gender equality.

However, this article is not about self praise, but looking at furthering gender equality at all levels of economic participation.

The statistics above can not be used as just a means of celebration for women, but an insight into our industrial future.

Although there are more than 1 million women entrepreneurs registered in Malaysia, there is no denying we need to see more participation of women in the higher echelons of executive or entrepreneurial ventures.

A significant percentage of females in universities today simply means that in the next generation, the female talent pool will be a significant economic contributor.

Therefore, in the immediate decades to come, one of the key national agendas will be the optimisation of talent utilisation in the industry - to allow the careers of women to flourish, and not be limited to domestic roles, wasting their talent halfway through their journey.

This means we must quickly look at means of allowing evenmore women to participate in the workforce, and overcome the barriers that create the "glass ceiling".

The barriers of female empowerment are not just a Malaysian problem, but a global one. Until today, even the United States of America has not found its first female president, although admittedly has come close in recent times.

European nations have seen more progress, while notable female leaders have achieved these historical milestones in Asia, such as in India, Pakistan and South Korea.

Reports suggest that while education opportunities for women is readily available, women still have issues penetrating high level careers, as they are expected to manage the domestic issues of the home.

This cultural acceptance may be a future problem when talent is in high demand.

Hence comes the conundrum of who takes the role of homemaker. It is admittedly still important, yet must be reinvented and managed for us to move forward with times.

This is where I believe with progress comes more opportunities. The advent of technology, if its penetration were managed, opens up the possibilities of working modes that allow both men and women to contribute their talents to the economy, yet share family responsibilities at the same time.  

There are many ideas to address this – flexible working hours, open office concepts, workplace nurseries, and immersive online communication tools.

All these have shown potential to meet the needs mentioned above and show more potential with the advancement of technology.

Most importantly, all players, be it government, industry or academia must be willing to address this future need. Discussion, dialogues and ideas must be allowed to thrive to create the flexibility for careers to flourish.

At the same time, opportunities do not bear fruit if women accept that their sole role of existence is to support the careers of their husbands. They must want, and take the opportunities as much as their male counterparts.

It will be a great loss to see half of our talent not be allowed to contribute to our great nation.

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