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How We Can Start to Empower Women in Our Workplace

by Chloe Lee. |


From 2010 to 2017, Malaysia has observed an increase from 45.5% to 53.5% of female labour force participation rate (LFPR), suggesting more women are joining and staying in the workforce. We also have local programs that help women to transit back into the workplace after taking a career break – either to care for their children, elderly parents or for personal health and growth. For example, TalentCorp’s Career Comeback Program helps women connect to potential employers and conduct workshops to facilitate this transition.

Malaysia is also working towards achieving at least 30% of women representation in top 100 public listed companies by 2020. Despite these efforts, there is still a gap that requires filling. In fact, a study by Khazanah Research Institute in 2018 found that Malaysia’s per capita income would increase by 26.6% if all these roadblocks related to gender inequality were removed for women in the workplace. As such, empowering women is no longer just an issue about gender inequality, but it is also a potential for economic expansion and growth. 



On the topic of women in the workplace, we have engaged with Lean In Malaysia, a women empowerment platform that aims to address the two key issues of women dropping out of the workforce, and also the lack of women in senior management positions. We spoke to Board of Advisors, Ee Lynn, Malisse and Afifah to gain some insights and experiences they have as young professionals and here is what they have to say:


Why is a movement such as Lean In Malaysia so important?


Ee Lynn, Malisse and Afifah all have full-time careers and serve the community in multiple ways on top of their main jobs. There was a resounding resonance on how it is important to constantly serve others and to continuously give back to the community. Being able to be involved in something they are passionate about outside of working hours allows them to be more human and more wholesome; it also creates opportunities for them to grow as leaders. More importantly, it is also about creating a safe space and a platform for those who feel unseen or unheard.


One of the core beliefs of Lean In Malaysia is to create circles (which can be social or friendship groups, tight circles of friends who care for each other), whereby people – both women and men – are able to encourage, empower and inspire each other to pursue their aspirations. Circles are important because they connect us with people, expose us to diverse groups and thought processes, allows us to share our blessings and creates a platform where we push each other to grow. Life is tough and going through changes in life can sometimes be a very lonely journey, but having such circles or a movement like Lean In Malaysia would remind us that we never have to walk alone, and that we are better together. 



How can I stand out as a woman in the workplace?


Malisse believed that focusing on personal growth is key, trusting that as she continues to invest in herself, one day someone would invest in her too. Being sure of what she wanted, knowing her strengths and abilities, doing relevant and sufficient market research and knowing what skillsets she brings onto the table has allowed her to land a job with Academy for Corporate Entrepreneurship (AfCE) after taking a career break. They believe that women can afford to be picky, and to choose a company that prioritizes their growth, when they know how to position themselves uniquely. 


There may be ecosystems or movements that facilitate women to constantly improve themselves, however, growth is solely dependent on the individual. Confidence is key - do not underestimate the power of self-confidence and self-belief, because it is knowing and understanding your value that gives you the strength to push boundaries and solve important problems for your company. It is also your individual responsibility to adopt a growth mindset, seizing every opportunity and making the best out of it. Being open and fluid to any tasks available and being willing to learn or upskill are key attitudes that would allow us to succeed. 


Furthermore, your involvements outside of work could also influence the opportunities you will receive internally at your organization. For example, Ee Lynn is passionate about building bridges between non-profit organizations and corporate companies, and serves what she is truly passionate about outside of work – through her involvement in Lean In and as the past Co-Chair of the Young Southeast Asia Leadership Institute (YSEALI) Women Leadership Alumni Network. As such, she has built a reputation for herself as she shares her interests, and when opportunities internally came about, they were quick to include her in the process. Therefore, when you focus on being mindful about creating balance between work and passion, the right opportunities would naturally come your way.



Overcoming Tricky Situations


Although situations have improved tremendously and organizations are now more intentional about addressing unconscious biases that occur in offices, there are still experiences of double standards when it comes to how women carry themselves. So when it came to negotiating a promotion, Afifah recalled a time when she requested for a promotion and it was highlighted to her that she came across impatient To overcome this, she spoke to her colleagues, other managers and even partners and humbly sought out feedback on her performance. From these conversations, she received validation that she is in fact competent and is deserving of a promotion, and brought the case before her manager once again – this time with sufficient data at hand – to discuss the prospects of an advancement. As such, when faced with tricky situations at work, be prepared with relevant information and data as it strengthens your credibility, have conversations and even build allies, and be courageous to ask and just do it.


When faced with constructive criticism that can come across as biased, it is important to address it. For example, some women often receive the feedback that their proactiveness comes across as ‘pushy’. In situations like these, remain calm and collected, but also ask for examples: “Can you give me an example of when I have displayed pushy behaviours?” – this sometimes helps your colleagues realize their unconscious biases and allows them the space to reflect on their actions or words; it also allows you to be more aware of your own tendencies. The key to eliminating biased feedback or behavior is to always address it and discuss the matter openly and transparently.  


As an Employer


The reality is that it can be hard for organizations to succeed without the diverse perspectives women have to offer. As an employer, it is then your responsibility to empower women and to create a platform for them to grow as much as you would with your male colleagues. 


In the front of supporting working mothers, the one thing organizations can do is to allow flexible schedules. As a mother of one, Malisse found that having the freedom to structure her own schedules has allowed her to balance the responsibilities of caring for her toddler and work – all while still delivering high quality work. More importantly, managers and employers should allow such agility without any forms of guilt-tripping or with strings attached, instead, such relationships should be built on mutual trust and empowerment.  



Key Takeaways 


If there is one takeaway for women from this session, what would it be?


Ee Lynn: Everything you need is within yourself.


Malisse: You never know if you don’t ask.


Afifah: Make decisions you can be proud of.


In short, with the right circle of friends, the right attitude towards producing quality work, and the right mindset of both the employers and employees, the working industry in Malaysia is all set to go places.

PROFILES:


Ee Lynn Tee – Corporate Innovation, Board of Advisors of Lean In Malaysia.

Ee Lynn currently leads the Innovation and New Ventures team in the Sales and Marketing Department of Sime Darby Property, where she co-founded and executed dto (‘ditto’) – a digital co-creation platform, that empowers customers to have a say in future property developments within Sime Darby Property. Developing creative confidence in others and building the next generation of authentic leaders that believes in women empowerment are things that she truly cares about.


As a global leader, she has served for 2 terms as the Co-Chair of the Young Southeast Asia Leadership Institute (YSEALI) Women Leadership Alumni Network, is a recognized Obama Foundation Asia Pacific Leader and continues to play an active role in Lean In Malaysia. 


Malisse Tan – Consultant & Business Owner, Board of Advisors of Lean In Malaysia.

Malisse is currently the Chief Strategy Officer of Academy for Corporate Entrepreneurship (AfCE) and the Founder of her own start-up, BOBBLE.  She has made her mark in areas of organisational growth, culture development, business development and innovation. Malisse is a mother to one and continues to play an active role in Lean In Malaysia, believing that it is important to give back to women and young aspiring talent through mentorships.



Nur Afifah – Corporate Governance & Sustainability, Board of Advisors of Lean In Malaysia.

Afifah currently heads the Governance and Integrity department for PLUS Malaysia. Not only is Afifah a great debater, but she is also passionate about empowering women in the workforce. Afifah previously served as a content and programming director with Lean In Malaysia and is currently part of the Board of Advisors.


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