Women, go forth and network

Selangor Princess Tengku Zatashah says women should not rest on their laurels when it comes to women leadership and empowerment

Women cannot sit back and hope that recognition would come their way. They need to undertake some smart networking with the right people. This was the key message by Tengku Zatashah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah of Selangor to participants of a recent women’s event.

“We women tend to put our heads down and work hard, hoping our bosses will take notice of our commitment and hard work. Men, on the other hand, they prefer to network and be visible in the workforce.

“And that is the key: We women must learn to also network and be visible in the workforce just like the men. It is not enough to have lunches with friends, but learn to network with our peers, mentors and infuencers. We must learn to share our good performances, and not hope secretly that the bosses noticed,” she said when speaking at the Asli (Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute) Women in Leadership Summit 2017 in Kuala Lumpur.

In short, she said women simply should not rest on their laurels when it comes to women in leadership and women empowerment.

To press the point, Tengku Zatashah — now a director of a public listed company (plc), as well as running a business — shared with the audience a personal anecdote while she was working in Paris.

She used to have lunches with her female colleagues, to chit-chat and catch up. Six months later, she was promoted to a managerial position, making her the first intern then to have been hired in the corporate communications floor at the headquarters.

“I worked hard for my achievements and they gave me the job portfolio of two former managers. All said and done, it was a great success. But on hindsight, I could have possibly achieved more, if I had done as my male colleagues had done: Lunches with those of influence, with his peers and mentors.

“He didn’t have to work as hard as I did, and yet his salary was considerably higher. Does all this sound fami- liar to you? Yes, because this is happening all over the world,” she said.

Upon her return to Malaysia, Tengku Zatashah has been active on a number of fronts. She is the royal patron of Make-A- Wish Malaysia, a foundation which works to grant the dreams of children facing life threatening illnesses. She is also a senior advisor at Bell Pottinger (M) Sdn Bhd and chairman/CEO of Light Cibles Malaysia.

Women Directors

For a start, she advised women interested in taking up directorships in plcs to prepare themselves. They can, for example, undergo the Women Directors Training Programme which she did in 2013.

Organised by NAM Institute for the Empowerment of Women Malaysia and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (KPWKM), the programme prepares women to qualify and sit on plc boards.

“This did eventually lead me to sit on my first plc in 2014 with Kim Teck Cheong Consolidated Bhd, the first Sabahan company in many years to go through an initial public offering (IPO) in 2014.

“With much networking and showing interest in sitting on the board of a plc, I was then approached by a friend who told me he knew of a Malaysian company that was about to go through an IPO and was looking for a suitable independent non-ED to sit on the board.

“My friend, who actually happens to be my mentor, recommended me immediately to the management. I met with the company’s ED, we clicked and that was it.

“Why this story: Because if I had just done my training and studies and kept quiet, and not networked and not created a link with mentors, putting it out there that I was keen to become a board director of a plc as my next career move, I would not have perhaps been offered this opportunity,” she said.

Women Empowerment

But she cautioned women to expect adversity and challenges. Even her own personal experience has by no means been plain sailing, she said.

“We want a gender-balanced fair world, and I have had my share of corporate experiences to know that women are often on the back-foot. So, as much as we can talk about women empowerment and women in leadership, we need to also understand the context of where we stand today.

“I have been through the corporate ladder working in the world’s leading cosmetics company and women empowerment, gender pay equality, board diversity. Well, these are concepts they are trying to implement, but as you and I both know, are far from the reality.

“Let’s start with salary. The same person, a female, working with more dossiers and projects in her portfolio, and her male colleague with similar job description, the woman gets paid half of what her male colleague is getting. Men are more likely to jump up the career ladder. Women are viewed as more likely to take time off if they get pregnant, and suspicions she may not even return to work after pregnancy,” she said.

But there has been progress. On International Women’s Day 2017, Iceland passed a law making it illegal to pay men more than women. Employers must prove that they offer equal pay regardless of gender, ethnicity or nationality.

Sharing some statistics, she told the summit participants that in Switzerland, women earn 72% of the average male income for similar work while French men are paid 15% more than the women for similar jobs. Europe-wide, women earn on average 16% less than men.

Turning her attention to Malaysia, she said women managers face a gender wage gap of 18.7%. However, the gap is estimated to be higher in other industries, with skilled workers hitting close to 40% and professionals at 23%.

“So, yes, we have a long way to go,” she added.

In the keynote address at the same summit, KPWKM Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim said that as at end- 2016, women comprised 16.6% of appointments in the executive decision-making authority of plcs, up from 7.7% in 2012.

“Despite the well-documented case studies of powerful business cases for advancing women’s leadership in the corporate sectors, and the clear risks of not investing in women, gender inequality stubbornly persists in Malaysia. One indicator that gender equality has not yet been achieved in the corporate sector is the fact that women are under-represented at the decision- making levels,” said Rohani.