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Challenges women face

03 September 2009 / The Star

The Women’s Summit looks at overcoming adversity.

EVERY year, the Women’s Summit is held in conjunction with International Women’s Day to give women a platform to be heard on issues at the workplace. This year is no different, with the theme being “Can Women Turn Adversity Into Opportunity?” in light of the current recession.

At the 7th Women’s Summit, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil outlined four major areas of adversity which Malaysian women face today. These are: the repercussions of the recession; work-life balance; the gender gap; and violence.

Sharizat pointed out that our female labour force, which is concentrated in export industries, was the hardest hit by the collapse of markets. This, in turn, has resulted in a number of repercussions, which mainly affect poor families and their children. To this end, the Government has introduced stimulus packages which focus on health and education.
shireen_in the news

Neglecting the minority: Shireen Muhiudeen, Corston- Smith CEO and speaker at the 7th Women’s Summit, said that a boardroom full of men risks alienating a major consumer group when making decisions that relate to women.

The eternal debate of women choosing to work or stay at home remains. This also accounts for one of the reasons why women are less likely to opt for high-profile positions in an organisation. Ultimately, the onus falls on both the private and public sector to make the necessary changes in the workplace to help women (and men) strike a balance between work and family.

In the 2007 Gender Gap Index, women were shown to be still under-represented at the higher levels of corporate and political life. Although girls are outperforming boys in schools and universities, this has not led to significant increases in women’s participation in the workforce and decision-making positions. Shahrizat claimed that the Government has adopted measures to mainstream gender perspectives into the development process, including formulating relevant policies and reviewing laws affecting women. Violence against women is an ongoing battle and it becomes even more challenging in these times because safety in the country has become a real issue. There is no immediate answer in sight and women will have to continue to stand up for their rights in order for their voices to be heard.

One of the key speakers at the Summit, Shireen Muhiudeen, managing director of Corston-Smith Asset Management Sdn Bhd spoke on “Bringing Women On Board”. She said that one of the main obstacles hampering women’s rise to the top is networking.

“This can be overcome by setting up a women’s chamber of commerce or the equivalent, which would then be the arm that liaises with the various sectors and ministries. Additionally, the setting up of mentoring programmes by chairmen of public-listed companies would also be helpful. Real-life examples and simulations of boardroom meetings would be very valuable to would-be independent directors,” she pointed out.

Shireen also brought up the fact there is a common misconception that women sitting on the board of companies must have a financial background. This is not necessarily so as “(while) board members’ competencies and skills are based on strategic thinking, common sense and handling of governance issues, they should have some financial sense, too.”

“Basically, board members need to have the time, be interested, business savvy and truly indepen­dent,” she added.

No one flinches when men make decisions at the top. But when women are onboard, people always do a double take and question their decisions. This will have to change.

“Malaysia is on the path for that change given the statistics of female undergraduates. Take a look at Bank Negara – the Governor makes decisions and no one flinches because she has built her reputation. Reputation building is the key,” Shireen said.

One of the toughest challenges of being in a boardroom which consists of only men is that there is a tendency to “have groupthink”. If the board is making decisions which relate to women, then there is a huge risk that they could be missing important feedback or even alienating that consumer group which would be readily available from a female board member.

“I understand that one of the most successful SUV cars was made as a result of an automaker asking loads of women what they would like as safety features for their car and children.

“For women who enter a boardroom full of men, I don’t think there is a single challenge that they have to face. Like all new board members, they need to be committed, interested and willing to gain a reputation of being valuable as a board member, which is what every new member has to face,” said Shireen.
Read more at http://www.thestar.com.my/story/#ZMyRrcMPUSPPOxUf.99




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