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Breaking Glass Ceilings: A Spotlight on Women in Leadership Roles in Malaysia

Tue, 19 Sep 2023

Breaking Glass Ceilings: A Spotlight on Women in Leadership Roles in Malaysia

Women in leadership roles have long been underrepresented in many industries and countries around the world. However, in Malaysia, there has been a significant shift towards breaking glass ceilings and empowering women in leadership positions.

With the increasing recognition of the valuable contributions women bring to various sectors, it is important to shed light on their achievements and the progress being made.

In recent years, Malaysia has witnessed a remarkable transformation in terms of gender equality and female representation in leadership roles. This shift is not only evident in the corporate sector but also in politics, academia, and social organisations.

This article aims to highlight the reality of women leaders in Malaysia and how we can empower them further.

Highlighting Gender Gap in Leadership Roles in Malaysia

In Malaysia, the representation of women in senior leadership roles is a significant concern. Recent statistics indicate that only 40% of senior management positions are occupied by women, a figure that has remained stagnant over the years.

This underrepresentation hampers progress and threatens to regress the strides made towards gender equality in the country.

Despite the global increase in women holding senior management positions in mid-market businesses, Malaysia still lags behind. Therefore, the lack of progress contributes to the overall shortage of women in these roles.

Overview of the Glass Ceiling Concept

The glass ceiling concept refers to an invisible, unacknowledged barrier that prevents women and minorities from rising to upper-level positions in an organisation, regardless of their qualifications or achievements.

This metaphor is often applied to describe gender inequities in the workplace, particularly in leadership roles.

In the context of Malaysia, although the country has seen considerable improvements in gender equality, the glass ceiling remains a significant obstacle for women aspiring to top positions in business, government, and other sectors.

Women in Malaysia face several challenges in breaking through the glass ceiling. These include traditional gender stereotypes, societal expectations, and a lack of supportive policies in the workplace.

Factors contributing to the existence of the glass ceiling in Malaysian organisations include a lack of flexible working arrangements, inadequate maternity and childcare provisions, and a scarcity of mentorship or networking opportunities for women.

Furthermore, unconscious bias and gender discrimination can also play a significant part in maintaining the glass ceiling as well.

Challenges Faced by Female Leaders in Malaysia

Changing Role of Women in Leadership

In Malaysia, as in other parts of the world, there is a paradigm shift in the role of women in leadership. This shift, however, brings with it a host of challenges. According to IBM research, there has been a 12% increase in women occupying C-suite and executive board roles in 2023. 

However, for this projection to materialise, significant encouragement and support must be needed to increase women's participation in leadership roles.

Limited Career Growth Opportunities

In the Malaysian workplace, women often face limited opportunities for career growth. They are 14% less likely to be promoted compared to their male counterparts, according to a study by Yale University. 

This disparity could be due to various factors, including gender bias, lack of mentorship, and limited access to professional development opportunities.

Difficulty in Expressing Opinions

Another challenge female leaders face in Malaysia is the difficulty in speaking up and expressing their opinions. Often, when women voice their thoughts, they are either silenced or judged as being too aggressive. 

This kind of environment can stifle creativity and limit the potential contribution of women to the organisation.

Sexual or Gender-Based Harassment

Sexual or gender-based harassment remains a significant challenge for women in the workplace. 

This often forces women to quit, change industries, or reduce their work hours, thereby limiting their career progression.

Difficult and Biased Expectations

Female leaders often have to deal with difficult and biased expectations. They often face lower expectations than their male counterparts and have to balance respect with likability. 

Moreover, they also have to overcome preconceptions and cultural expectations related to gender.

Challenges in Personal Life

Finally, female leaders also face challenges in their personal lives. The work-life balance is a significant issue, with the imbalance often affecting women more than men. 

Female leaders often have to juggle professional work with household chores. This imbalance can lead to stress and burnout.

Incentives to Increase Representation of Women in Senior Positions in Malaysia

Flexible Working Models

One of the key incentives to increase the representation of women in senior positions in Malaysia is the adoption of flexible working models. This includes allowing remote working, flexible hours, and part-time work options. This flexibility is crucial in addressing the challenges faced by women in balancing their career and personal responsibilities. By offering flexible work arrangements, companies can attract and retain talented women who might otherwise opt out of full-time work due to family commitments.

For instance, Grant Thornton Malaysia's 'Your Time Your Place' initiative has resulted in 45% of their female staff holding senior leadership positions. 

This proves that companies that appreciate the diversity of employees' needs and adapt accordingly can significantly increase their female representation in senior roles, thus breaking the glass ceiling.

Transparent Pathways to Leadership

Another effective incentive is the development of transparent pathways to leadership. This includes clear criteria for promotions, unbiased recruitment processes, and fair performance assessments. 

By making these processes transparent, businesses can eliminate unconscious bias and ensure that women have equal opportunities for career advancement.

When women understand what it takes to advance to senior positions, they can better strategise their career plans and make use of available resources for career development.

Mental Health Support

Providing mental health support is another crucial incentive. Women in leadership often face higher risks of mental health issues due to various factors, including gender-based microaggression and difficulty in exercising authority. 

Promoting mental health awareness and encouraging regular health screenings would mean companies can provide the necessary support for their female leaders.

Additionally, understanding the systemic and societal issues affecting women's mental health can help companies adjust their policies and practices. 

Adoption of ESG Principles

Finally, complying with Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles can serve as an incentive. Companies that adhere to these principles tend to have higher female representation in the boardroom. 

Adopting ESG principles not only enhances a company's reputation but also attracts international investors and clients.

Moreover, women in senior leadership are more likely to advocate for environmentally conscious decisions and speak out against unethical behaviour. This makes ESG compliance a win-win strategy for both the company and its female leaders.

Better Emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Policies

The government's emphasis on DEI policies can also incentivise businesses to increase female representation in senior roles. 

However, DEI should not be seen as a box-ticking exercise. 

It requires a genuine commitment from all levels of the organisation, including senior management and male counterparts. This can address the challenge of lack of support and create a culture of mutual respect and understanding.

At Upscale, we are always supporting the development of women in leadership roles. Our vast pool of talent enables us to find the perfect candidate for any position, no matter where you are on the career ladder.

Reach out to us today at upscale.my for more information on how we can help you break the glass ceiling and achieve your career goals!