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Malaysia records highest women's participation in senior leaderships

The number of women holding senior leadership positions in Malaysia has hit 37%, the highest ever recorded

KUALA LUMPUR, 8 March 2021 The number of women holding senior leadership positions in Malaysia has hit 37%, the highest ever recorded despite the COVID-19 pandemic affecting economies around the world, according to Grant Thornton’s annual Women in Business report.

The ASEAN region has also performed positively, from 35% last year to 38% this year. All regions surveyed except for APAC (28%) have now surpassed the crucial 30% milestone.

Ms Seah Siew Yun, National Tax Practice Leader at Grant Thornton Malaysia PLT says: “Seeing the proportion of women leaders in Malaysia rise from 31% last year to 37% this year is encouraging. This figure is also above the global figure of 31%. It also passes the important 30% threshold, which research shows is the minimum representation needed to change decision-making processes.

Another encouraging finding is the types of leadership roles women are occupying. Grant Thornton’s research reveals higher numbers of women across operational C-suite roles in Malaysia compared to last year, with the proportion of female Chief Finance Officers, up 12pp to 41%, female Chief Marketing Officers, up 14pp to 36% and female Chief Information Officers, up 3pp to 20%. However, the proportion of women holding Chief Executive Officer positions was down slightly at 10% (-5pp on 2020), and has trended downwards since 2019.

According to the research, Malaysia has the most businesses with female Chief Marketing Officers (36%) in the ASEAN region. Besides that, the proportion of women in the more traditional senior HR roles has increased slightly at 54% (+2pp on 2020).

Passing the 30% of women in senior roles globally is an important milestone for businesses, but not the end goal. Businesses that want to reap the benefits of a better gender balance, must continue to take action to enable women to realise their ambitions.

The research has shown that Malaysian businesses are taking positive actions and the top three actions taken to improve the gender balance of their leadership team were creating an inclusive culture (54%), ensuring equal access to developmental work opportunities (48%), and providing mentoring and coaching (47%).

“Recognising the importance of a gender balanced leadership team, more businesses are now walking the talk. It is encouraging to see more businesses placing a priority in creating an inclusive culture in their workplace. The research has shown that the number of businesses taking this initiative has increased the highest, from 17% of businesses last year to 54% of businesses this year,” Siew Yun commented. 

In terms of ensuring employee engagement and inclusion, more than half of Malaysian businesses (56%) have shown to create an environment where employees can ‘speak up’ with ideas, issues and questions. They are also promoting work/life/balance and/or flexibility for employees (54%) and instilling new working practices to better engage all employees (50%).

While the number of women in leadership roles has grown, questions remain over the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women, particularly working mothers. The report reveals that over half (56%) of respondents in Malaysia agree that in their organisations, new working practices as a result of COVID-19 will benefit women’s career trajectories long-term.

UN data shows that, before the pandemic, women did three times as much unpaid housework as men, and mounting evidence indicates that COVID-19 is only increasing this disparity – as well as adding the extra responsibilities of childcare and home schooling while schools are closed.

“Breaking the 30% barrier certainly does represent progress – having grown from 23% 14 years ago when we first started tracking this – but these gains can easily be lost. Reassuringly, 85% of businesses in Malaysia say they are taking action to ensure the engagement and inclusion of their employees against the negative backdrop of the pandemic.

“Now more than ever, businesses need to stay focused on what is enabling women to progress to leadership positions, so that women move forward rather than back as a result of the global pandemic.” Siew Yun concluded.



Further enquiries, please contact:

Charmane Koh

Senior Manager, Corporate Affairs

Grant Thornton Malaysia PLT

T: +603 2692 4022

M: +017 3384563


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