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Initiatives Helping To Close The Gender Wage Gap In Malaysia

women at work

The topic of the gender wage gap has often been on the table in Malaysia amongst various policymakers and as seen in the first part of this article, the disparity between the average salary of males and females have not narrowed in the past 10 years[1]. The labour force participation rate (LFPR) of women in July 2021 was 54.6%[2], and women in Malaysia are found to be more educated compared to their male counterparts; even so, the disproportion of earnings is present [3]

Women are leading across the globe in terms of education and training. They are going to be the largest consumer group. Can you imagine what will happen when income levels go up? What better choice can companies make than to have women in decision-making roles to cater to that market? I think the potential is enormous. – Prof. Mahendhiran Sanggaran Nair, Monash Malaysia’s Vice President (Research and Development)[4]

Malaysia has seen an ongoing effort to reduce the gender wage gap since 1957. More notably in the 1970s where there was an increased entry of women into higher education institutions in an effort to educate and empower them[5]. There was a further acceleration in 2018 with a special budget allowance to run programmes, set up structures and initiatives to encourage women to re-enter the workforce and continue to build their careers. The year was dubbed ‘Women Empowerment Year’[6].

The gender wage gap is a complex issue with interlinking reasons for its continual existence. One of the root causes of this disparity is due to the attached gender biases towards women in the workplace, particularly boardrooms[7,8]. We will explore further the efforts of both government and grassroots organisations in helping to close this gap.  

Call For Greater Transparency 

The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) voiced out for the adoption of foreign policy such as the one that is practised in the United Kingdom[9]. It involves transparency from the companies to report the average wage of all employees, the proportion of each gender in different salary brackets and the percentage of men and women employees who receive bonuses[10]

The government had in 2016 through the TalentCorp initiative announced the likelihood of declaring management and workforce composition, however, since then, it is unclear whether it was implemented[11]. Even so, the element of transparency of pay should be included in the upcoming policies. 

broken glass
Source: Unsplash

Keep Pushing The Glass Ceiling

At the same time, it was found that women are less likely to discuss pay raises with their employers, and in some instances, they are seen as pushy when negotiating for one and often the request for a raise is lower than their male counterparts[12]. It was also found that females who enter formal employment are willing to work for lower wages[13]. This is not an isolated issue as globally, men are four times more likely to negotiate for a raise and would be perceived positively, seen as confident and assertive[12]. Despite these negative costs, it is still crucial for women to speak up and negotiate for a pay raise. 

The government previously mandated that boards of large corporations should consist of 30% of women by 2020[14]. Rising to the challenge, the ‘30% Club’ initiative was founded in 2015 to advocate for more female directors in the boardroom[15]

In 2021, data shows that women representation on top 100 public limited companies Board of Directors (BOD) in Malaysia stands at 25.8%. That’s a 82% increase from 2015[15].

Rewarding Personal Choices

Women in the workplace need particular enablers to help them juggle and flourish in both private and corporate life. In particular, the establishment of childcare facilities in the private sector would encourage women to return to the workforce as it would give them peace of mind. Alternatively, subsidised child care is a possible solution as it was reported that childminding services cost at least RM 600 per month in 2020[16]. An attempt to reduce the cost by the government is through the National Economic Recovery Plan (Penjana) as registered childcare centres were provided with one-off grants valued up to RM5000[16].

In the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020), the government sets a target that by 2020, at least 56.55% of women will be in the job market [17]. This includes the introduction of the ‘Career Comeback Program’ through Talentcorp Malaysia[11].  

In 2020, the ‘Women@Work’ initiative fortified childcare facilities at the workplace with an injunction of RM30 million and increased the maternity leave from 60 days to 90 days in the private sector. Women were encouraged to return to work under this initiative and were provided with a monthly incentive worth RM500 per month along with a RM300 incentive to employers for a duration of two years[5,18]

Source: NSTP Archive

Women Exploring Different Careers 

It was found that in 2020, only 26% of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates in Malaysia are women[19]. The low number could have been influenced by personal choices of entering into service-driven jobs to ensure enough time is provisioned to caretaking duties[13]. Another possible reason is the lack of role models in these industries that are traditionally male-dominated [20]

A government-private collaboration with YTL Construction called ‘Women in Rail Malaysia’ managed to introduce young girls to female role models, further promoting STEM to impressionable students in schools in Johor. Career talks were conducted to enlighten them to careers in sciences, engineering and even the railway industry[21] .  

At an education level, the Energy, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (ESTECC) programme launched in 2019 aimed at increasing interest and knowledge of STEM subjects to students nationwide and this has been consistent with the Education Blueprint 2013–2025[22]

In light of the Fourth Industrial Revolution the services sector is quickly evolving and becoming increasingly automated. Women who are predominantly drawn to the services sector need to equip themselves with the skills and knowledge in order to stay relevant and competitive in the workplace. 

e-Homemakers, a private organisation, have provided computers and business training to unemployed women and women from low-income households to improve digital literacy[23]. As an example, these grassroots initiatives are pivotal in encouraging women to start their own home-based businesses. Single mothers in particular benefit the most from opportunities that allow them to work-from-home, care for their family and earn an income[24].

Deflecting Gender Discrimination 

Contrary to popular beliefs, gender biases and discrimination towards women are not only restricted to men. A UN report indicated that at least 90% of women in the world hold biases against women. In Malaysia, only 1.46% of the respondents reported holding no gender biases and at least 80% of Malaysians agreed that men are better suited to be political leaders[25]

Of course, there are actions taken to protect women from discrimination as the Malaysian government identified women as one of the nine target groups under Malaysia’s Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 (SPV 2030)[26]. Before the political upheaval in early 2020, reforms to improve women’s rights after laborious years of women’s rights activism have been tabled such as the Sexual Harassment Act, Gender Equality Act, anti-stalking laws, paternity leave and protection against discrimination in the workplace [27].  

However, the laws are yet to be billed and implemented. The fight continues for women’s rights groups such as Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW) who are constantly advocating for a Gender Equality Act in Malaysia[28]

On the other hand, women rights activists have suggested that the education system should be uprooted and shaken up from as early as pre-school. It is high time for the long-standing stereotypes that boys are smarter than girls and girls shouldn’t like certain subjects to be removed for good. Not only that, respecting one another is a value that should be embedded in children at school[27]

To address occupational segregation, we must challenge gender stereotypes and expand the range of career options available to women and girls. We must also remove barriers that hinder women and girls from pursuing careers in traditionally male-dominated fields. – Tan Heang-Lee, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) Advocacy and Communications Officer [10]

Source: World Vision Singapore

Adaptive Solutions Moving Forward

The International Labor Organisation suggests that it may take at least 70 years to bridge the gender wage gap if no concrete measures are taken[29]. In Malaysia’s economic landscape, we see that the government and private organisations have been actively trying to close the gap, however, the pandemic has caused a setback with a 0.5% decrease in women’s labour participation rate in 2021[2].

The pandemic has changed the way people work and live and government policies regarding women in the workplace may need revisiting. Organisations working to help support and empower women in careers will need innovative solutions to keep and grow the female workforce. 

A study by Hays, a worldwide recruiting firm, suggests that an overhaul of old structures need to take place. The flexibility of location and working hours will be a growing trend. More corporations will be focused on outputs and the delivery of the agreed tasks rather than the need to be physically present in the office from 9am-5pm. This flexibility would allow working women to have an improved work-life balance and continue building their careers[30]

Source: AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star (23/7/2020)

Explore our sources: 

  1. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2021). Salaries & Wages Survey Report, Malaysia, 2020.  Link
  2. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2021). Key Statistics of Labour Force in Malaysia, July 2021. Link
  3. The World Bank (2019). Breaking Barriers: Toward Better Economic Opportunities for Women in Malaysia. Link
  4. D.Murad. (2019). Malaysia benefits by investing in women. The Star. Link
  5. I, Shahirah, Izzaty , R.Salleh, K. Khalid Ali. (2020). Reimagining Women Empowerment from an Organizational Perspective: A Malaysian Experience. Link
  6. Ministry of Finance Malaysia. (2017). Budget 2018. Link
  7. I.Lim (2020). Do Malaysians think men and women receive different pay? Two out of five polled say ‘yes’. The Malay Mail. Link
  8. K.Ho. (2019). Majority of Malaysians do not understand the gender pay gap.YouGov. Link
  9. I.Xavier (2020). LETTER | Women workers being robbed of hard-earned wages. MalaysiaKini.Link
  10. D. Murad. (2019). Feature: The gender wage gap is real. The Star. Link
  11. Talentcorp. (2016). Government’s Initiatives to Increase Women in the Workforce Make Headway. Link
  12. Randstad. (2020). What women (and) men can do to close the gender pay gap. Link
  13. N. Abidin and A. Ismail. (2021). Gender and Labour Force Participation in Malaysia:Current Research and Future Direction on Gender Egalitarianism. International Journal of Academic Research in Progressive Education and Development. 10 (2), 348-360.
  14. P. Victor. (2017). Malaysia pushes more women in the boardrooms. The Asean Post. Link
  15. BERNAMA.(2021). M’sia top 100 PLCs have 25.8% women on BOD – 30% Club Malaysia. Link
  16. BERNAMA. (2021). Childcare providers moot increased fees to cover operating costs amid Covid-19 pandemic. Link
  17. Eleventh Malaysia Plan (2016). Anchoring Growth on People (2016-2020). Link
  18. Ministry of Finance Malaysia. (2019). Budget 2020. Link
  19. UN WOMEN. (2020). The State of Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Indian Ocean Rim. Link
  20. CDD (2015). Kajian faktor persekolahan yang mempengaruhi wanita yang berjaya dalam STEM [A study on schooling factors for women role models in STEM]. Putrajaya: Ministry of Education.
  21. N.Zulkifli. (2020). Girls need to see women in science. New Straits Times. Link
  22. MoE (2016). Malaysia education blueprint 2013-2025, Annual report 2015. Putrajaya: MoE.
  23. The Star. (2011).Thirty to benefit from ehomemaker programme. Link
  24. N.Weimann-Sandig. (2020). Malaysia and Its Transition Process Towards More Gender Equality at the Labor Market: Result from A Qualitative Study. Malaysian Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities (MJSSH). Vol 5 (7). pg 7-22. e-ISSN: 2504 – 8562
  25. UNDP.(2020). Almost 90% of Men/Women Globally Are Biased Against Women. Link
  26. Government of Malaysia. Shared Prosperity Vision 2030. Link
  27. The Star. (2020). Not just men biased against women. Link
  28. Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women. (2020). Gender Equality in Malaysia. Link
  29.  International Labour Office. Closing the gender pay gap: A review of the issues, policy, mechanisms and international evidence. Link
  30. M.Evans. (2020). How women can harness the silver lining of COVID-19 for their careers. Link

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