Where are the women bosses?

OCTOBER 19 — Khazanah Research Institute’s (KRI) latest report revealed that women were the majority in low-level professions, such as nurses, clerks, cleaners, helpers, and teachers. 

According to KRI’s “State of Households 2018: Different Realities”, men dominated high-level positions like chief executives, senior officials and legislators, as well as managerial jobs in hospital, retail, and other services. 

Worse still, women’s representation in all managerial jobs declined between 2011 and 2016, dropping as high as over five percentage points from 24.9 per cent to 19.5 per cent among hospitality, retail, and other service managers.

Although the general gender wage gap based on average monthly salary was 6.2 per cent in 2017 (women earned RM2,772 to men’s RM2,954), the gap was actually wider when comparing within age groups and occupations.

Although women earned slightly more, less than 1 per cent, than men in the 25-39 age group, the trend flipped for older workers. Women were paid 6.5 per cent less than men in the 40-54 age group. The gender wage gap widened even more for workers aged 55 and above, with women making 16.4 per cent less than men.

The gender wage gap exists within professions too. Women earn 40.4 per cent less than men among skilled agricultural workers; the gender wage gap also exists among professionals (20.6 per cent) and managers (19.8 per cent).

These sad statistics belie the fact that women workers are more educated than men. Almost 40 per cent of women workers obtained STPM qualification and above, compared to about 27 per cent of men.

Women’s labour force participation rate increased at a pace KRI deemed “impressive” between 2010 and 2017, from 45.5 per cent to 53.5 per cent. I suppose that is one thing the Najib administration did right.

But a rate of just slightly more than half of the female working-age population entering the labour force is nothing to shout about. Statistics by the World Bank (which give a different female labour force participation rate for Malaysia at 50.8 per cent in 2017) show higher rates in other countries like Singapore (60.5 per cent), Thailand (60.5 per cent), United Kingdom (56.8 per cent), and United States (55. 7 per cent).

The KRI report did not provide reasons why women might be stuck in low-level jobs or factors behind the gender wage gap, except to state bizarrely that “not all gender inequalities point to outright gender discrimination.”

KRI cited “social norms, gender stereotypes, and structural constraints” in women’s and men’s career choices instead — which, in my opinion, are the very essence of gender discrimination.

Sexism and misogyny are the pillars holding up the glass ceiling, keeping women in low-paid jobs, and forcing women to either give up their career or to die standing trying to have it all.

Girls may be brought up to be less assertive and outspoken than boys. Boys get away with “bad” behaviour. This is obvious discriminatory treatment between boys and girls.

The different upbringing between boys and girls leads to different study and career paths as young women choose more “nurturing” but low-paid professions, while young men take on STEM jobs and higher-paid careers.

Even in other professions, the indoctrination of passivity and meekness into women since childhood may discourage them from asking for promotions or pay raises, unlike their male counterparts who have no problems making such demands even if their work is of poorer quality.

Sexism in the workplace causes women to lose opportunities that are crucial to moving up the ladder. The Women’s Aid Organisation has previously complained about pregnancy discrimination at work.

Women also have to deal with sexual harassment at work, often without policies and mechanisms in place.

The discrepancy in pay between women and men in the same occupations is obviously due to sexism and discrimination. Even if women don’t ask for promotions and raises as much as their male colleagues, companies should ensure that staff at the same level are paid equally.

Or perhaps workers should reveal their salaries to each other and get rid of the nonsensical culture of keeping one’s salary secret. Then any pay gaps will be exposed.

The creation of life is a major obstacle in women’s professional lives, which could be a reason why men aged 40 and above earn more than their female counterparts. Even if women re-enter the workforce after taking a few years off work to raise a child, they would likely start at the same position they had previously or, worse, at a lower one because the needs of the workforce have rapidly evolved.

Their male colleagues, on the other hand, are well on their way to senior management as their career path since graduation remains uninterrupted even if they get married and have children.

One thing the government can do to keep women at work is to implement shared parental leave policies, rather than maternity leave, to encourage men to share the burden of child-rearing and family responsibilities. This could also reduce discrimination against married or pregnant women.

The government must do a lot more to achieve equal pay and improve women’s representation in high-level jobs, which isn’t limited to the Women’s Ministry alone, but also involves ministries like education and human resource, and even religious departments whose morality police disproportionately target women.

It is also unclear what the 30% Club Malaysia Chapter or Lean In Malaysia are doing. Hopefully they have read the KRI Report and are figuring out ways to get more women managers and achieve equal pay.

Girls and women have always had to fight a tougher battle than boys and men. Women also have to deal with other women who try to pull them down, instead of uniting against the patriarchy.

We women must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and succeed despite the odds. It may not seem fair, but there is only so much public policy can do. The rest is up to us.

Continue advocating for our rights as women, but also do whatever it takes to reach the top.

Assuming wealth, power, and influence will enable us to push for gender equality and help disenfranchised women.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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