WIL to help prepare women as board members

A little more time is required to meet the 30% target due to challenges

By LYDIA NATHAN / Pic By ISMAIL CHE RUS

The call to have greater participation of women on boards of companies has its challenges and a little more time will be required to meet the 30% target participation by 2020 aimed for by the government.

Efforts to boost greater gender equality in Malaysia’s workforce have now seen women accounting for only 16.6% of board members on Bursa Malaysia-listed top 100 companies.

Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) ED Sharron Gunn said it often takes time to build momentum and it was the same for the UK.

“When we first started in 2011, our target was to get 25% of women in executive roles, but we only hit about 13% or 14%.

“But it suddenly moved very quickly in the last couple of years, so sometimes it does take a while to get the flow going,” she told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) yesterday in Kuala Lumpur.

Another issue that women face in the workforce today is pay gap, which has been in the spotlight all over the world in the last decade.

The 2017 Gender Equality Global Report and Ranking by independent body, Equipleap, recently reported the top five countries that have demonstrated a commitment to gender equality are Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland and the UK.

The research scored over 3,000 public companies from 23 countries, noting only six companies out of the top 200 companies had a gender pay gap of less than 3% and only 18% had signed and abided by the United Nations’ Women’s Empowerment Principles.

Gunn said even though the UK has had an Equal Pay Act for over 40 years, it still has not made a difference, even though it is illegal.

“What we are seeing in the UK is full disclosure from employers for all to see. No doubt it will have a huge impact, they will need to be transparent about the pay gap, and try and bridge that. We have also seen companies with no women as board members named and shamed,” she said.

This is in line with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak’s attempt to meet the targeted 30% by 2020, saying that by next year, he will be naming and shaming these companies as well.

Gunn is confident of this method working because it would also affect potential investors who would not want to be seen investing in companies that are on the “name and shame” list.

ICAEW partnered Talent Corp Malaysia Bhd and was facilitated by LeadWomen Sdn Bhd to empower and encourage women in leadership roles through the Women in Leader- ship (WIL) programme.

The programme that takes place once a year has been around for four years in Malaysia, but started off in the UK for chartered accountants. ICAEW soon saw the importance of supporting strong professional women in their roles and began running the programme here.

ICAEW head of Malaysia Loh Wei Yuen said the 30% target set by the prime minister might not be achievable, but nevertheless provides a goal to work towards and will keep raising the bar for women.

“It’s a combination of effort from everyone, the government, regulators and organisations. For instance we do advocacy, and we train women to be ready to go onto boards and link arms with various other bodies to work together. The good thing is we all have the same objective and direction,” she told TMR at the graduation ceremony of WIL in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Loh added that efforts in creating board readiness include education and a change in culture.

“We have gone into schools and universities to speak to young women about having the option to choose a role and excel in it. For example, a lot of male-dominated sectors do not have many women in it. We are trying to break that mould.

“Also, having no disparity can benefit us today. During interviews these days, you see an equal amount of men and women on the board conducting it,” she said.

ICAEW hopes to continue empowering women in the workforce and will be rolling out programmes to enable women to assume high-ranking roles, proving that success is available for all, regardless of gender or race.