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Women Missing from the ASEAN Job Market

I came across an article recently on Free Malaysia Today which centred on the imbalance between women and men in the ASEAN workplace. At GradLink, we work closely with connecting university students with their dream graduate roles and so we recognise the importance of equality in the job market. But while this discrepancy is alarming – it is also rectifiable. 

Where are all the women?

The report follows that staggeringly, while the Penang Institute found that women greatly outnumber men in major public universities, they often go ‘missing’ following graduation. For example, while women make up 45 percent of engineering undergraduates in Malaysia, they make up just 22.7 percent of the workforce. 

Using the UNESCO GPI of 0.97-1.03 as parity, the report found that while there is an overrepresentation of women in the clerical support workers sector (GPI 2.53) and in the professional sector (GPI 1.28), they are still worryingly underrepresented in the overall job market with a GPI of just 0.62 (Source: Dept. of Statistics, Labour Force Survey 2015). 

Additionally, the report confirms a lack of diversity in decision making roles and leadership positions. According to the data obtained by the Commission of Companies, women make up only 16 percent of corporate board members. Compare this with government-linked companies, such as those under the Finance Ministry Incorporated, where women make up 17 percent of board members. 

It pays to be diverse 

This lack of diversity is discouraging for both women already in industry, as well as graduates looking to break into it. But interestingly, the article proposes that equality makes sense not just in terms of ethics, but in business too. 

This works in a myriad of ways. Firstly, tax money spent on “subsidising public varsities will not be maximised if a major segment of our student population goes ‘missing’ from the job market after graduation” especially when those circumstances are reversible and preventable. 

Equally, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report in 2014 confirmed “a correlation between gender equality and GDP per capita” that is compatible “with the theory and mounting evidence that empowering women means more efficient use of a nation’s human capital endowment” therefore “reducing gender inequality” while “[enhancing] productivity and economic growth.”

The McKinsey Global institute bolstered this view, finding that in a ‘full potential’ scenario (in which women’s participation in the economy is equal to men’s) “the annual global GDP in 2025 would increase up to 26% or USD28 trillion compared with a business-as-usual scenario.” This is the equivalent to the economies of the U.S and China combined. 

In relation to Southeast Asia, the report also projected an 8 percent increase in GDP by 2025, which translates to about RM110 billion. This is great news for both employers and employees.

At GradLink, we echo this ethos. We have learnt through working with innumerable companies across the globe, such as PwC, Shell and Intel, that the more vibrant the array of voices, the more valuable the output. 

What hindrances have you faced in your search for employment? Do you have any advice you would offer young women breaking into a male dominated field? 

By David Gee Published: June 13, 2016


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