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Press Release

Women in Business 2023

Progress on women in senior leadership in Malaysia stagnant

A pandemic-prompted change in working practices has brought about only slight progress for women in senior leadership, according to Grant Thornton’s 2023 International Business Report (IBR) research into women in business globally. In Malaysia, 40% of senior management positions are held by women, an unchanged record compared with the previous year.

On a global level, 32.4% of senior management positions are now held by women, an increase of just half a percentage point (pp) since 2022 and 13pp since the research was first undertaken in 2004. While progress on the overall number of women in senior leadership continues, it’s concerningly slow.

Research reveals that our progress is at risk of regressing and businesses must push for parity, and quickly.

Silvia Tan, Partner of Quality Management said, “The increasing emphasis on corporate responsibility and global standards are putting pressure on firms to form diverse leadership teams. Failing to do so, businesses will be faced with difficulties in raising capital and attracting investors. Society is demanding a faster pace of improvement and our Malaysian government is also increasing emphasis on DEI policies thus businesses must do more.

“We’ve seen Malaysian businesses showing positive commitment for past few years and we’ve even surpassed the 30% threshold but why the inertia?”

The research has found that working models have a significant impact on the number of women in senior management. In Malaysia, 45% of businesses are now purely office-based. 52% of businesses have a hybrid and flexible approach and 3% of businesses are home-based.

“With close to half of businesses are back to purely office-based, this impacts our progress to promote female leadership. Businesses that don’t have flexible working practices tend to be less attractive workplaces to senior women. With many businesses not embracing hybrid or flexible ways of working, women are dropping out of their current positions, considering part-time work or even starting their own venture.

“A significant boost to the number of women in leadership roles will come from more businesses committing to flexible working and developing the right organisational culture to support it. For example, at Grant Thornton Malaysia, we have launched ‘Your Time Your Place’ a flexible working arrangement for our employees. This empowers our people to find the work-life balance that works for them, giving them space and time to accommodate their responsibilities and needs. This contributes to our positive results of having 45% females holding senior leadership positions here at Grant Thornton Malaysia,” said Silvia.

Amid a global skills shortage and talent crisis, businesses that adopt flexible working models may also reap the benefits of improved cross-border working and access to a larger talent pool, such as people with disabilities, those living in geographically remote locations or those seeking better work-life balance.

The fact that our progress is at risk of sliding backwards, demonstrates the importance and urgency of committing to more intentional action to increase the percentage of women in senior leadership. The research shows that Malaysian businesses are focused on succession planning to get more women into senior leadership positions including implementing programmes for mentoring and coaching while nurturing individual working styles and needs.

Businesses should now focus their attention on developing more transparent pathways to leadership and more transparency across recruitment, promotions, and performance. Providing clarity and equal opportunity in every aspect of leadership roles, from recruitment to performance reviews, is crucial to break the glass ceiling,” commented Silvia.

To push for parity, businesses must be intentional and decisive with their actions and accelerate progress and Grant Thornton has five recommendations arising from the IBR research:

1.     Offer flexibility: Businesses should adopt a hybrid or flexible approach, where possible, to create an environment that generates greater diversity among senior leadership teams. Pairing this with a culture which is supportive and understanding is vital

2.     Have greater intent: Accelerate and closely monitor initiatives designed to encourage greater diversity in senior leadership, including women only programmes

3.     Be transparent and nurturing: Employee wellbeing and mentoring programmes which support women into senior leadership are crucial, but this needs to be combined with greater transparency on pathways into those roles 

4.     Act knowingly: Businesses now calling for a ‘return to the workplace’ must consider the effect that this will have on diversity, understanding that this may have unintended consequences

5.     Monitor and refine: Look to guard against any negative impacts of working from home, understanding the disadvantages it can bring and addressing them

It is clear we now need to inject greater determination so that we don’t regress. Greater diversity is always a plus point for businesses as it demonstrates they are ethical and fair, brings a boost to business performance, and results in better outcomes and decisions,” concludes Silvia.


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