30 Sep 2016 10:10:00 AM

Companies must rise to the challenge of enhancing diversity in the workplace

Malaysia’s potential for economic growth should be drawn and leveraged from our unique identity as one of the world’s most diverse populations as articulated in the New Economic Model which singled out Malaysia’s diversity as a source of strength.
Towards this, the Government has introduced several measures to encourage more listed companies to embrace the diversity and inclusion agenda, including a requirement beginning 2015 for all listed companies to disclose in their annual reports their diversity policies, covering gender, ethnicity and age for board and management. Listed companies are also encouraged to disclose their composition of the workforce. 

In September last year, TalentCorp-PwC Malaysia produced an update to their Diversity in the Workplace survey, surveying 130 respondents, including 67 of the largest 100 listed companies by market capitalisation, representing 70% of Bursa’s total market capitalisation.   

The survey findings are a cause for concern: 31% of the companies disclosed that they had no female board member, 19% admitted to not having any woman in their top management, 24% had no ethnic diversity in top management, and 31% had no board members below the age of 50. 
“If diversity and inclusion makes good business sense and is a recognition of the fact that people have unique contributions that they can bring to an organisation, why haven’t more Malaysian employers embraced it?” asked TalentCorp’s Chief Executive Officer, Shareen Shariza Dato’ Abdul Ghani.

She asked this in her welcome address at this year’s Northern Region Diversity Summit, held on 20 September at the Penang Equatorial Hotel. 
We all know that diversity equates to better financial performance and better talent retention. But if CEOs do not pay much attention to this, we will see little progress as times pass on."
Shareen called on companies to wake up to the fact that today, there are substantially more women in universities and as a result, the female workforce has increased exponentially. Hence, more companies should seriously consider putting in place support structures, which include balanced work-life policies, for women talent in order to retain valuable human capital. 

Encouraging companies to be more flexible in their hiring, Shareen reminded employers that “women who are on career breaks are your talent pool.”
She also said that the desire for such policies are not limited to women. Citing the 2016 Kelly Global Workforce Index, she explained:
Malaysian employees such as Gen Ys now prefer careers that centre on work-life balance and would rather give up higher pay and advancement."
Flexible hiring should also be extended to “the differently abled”, she said. 

In her speech, Shareen commended Gamuda Berhad for recruiting individuals with autism under Project Differently-Abled (DA). Started in 2013, Project DA gathers volunteers from among Gamuda’s staff who act as buddies, supervisors and guardians to ensure that their DA colleagues adjust well to their work environment. In Menara Gamuda, a café called DIB, which stands for ‘Deaf in Business’, is run by hearing impaired individuals.
The Northern Region Diversity Summit is an annual event that aims to strengthen the northern region employers’ network, while encouraging knowledge-sharing and collaboration to advance diversity in the workplace. 

This year’s summit was jointly organised by IHS Markit, Dell Malaysia, First Solar Malaysia, Motorola Solutions and Keysight Technologies in collaboration with TalentCorp Malaysia. With Rising to the Challenge as this year’s theme, discussion topics focused on the grit to succeed and how women can overcome the difficulties faced in their journey to the top. Participating employers were also offered new perspectives on how to build the capabilities of their female employees.