Of late, there has been much talk about gender equality. Traditionally, in most cultures, men have been favoured when it comes to high-ranking positions in the workplace. The situation is no different in Malaysia.
Therefore, when it so happens that a woman does well in a traditional male type task and achieves a high-ranking position in the workplace, it may cause people to scrutinise her performance, because it runs contrary to their stereotypical expectations of females. On the other hand, if a male performs well, no one would raise their eyebrows in surprise. This goes to show that our standards can shift depending on the gender of the person we are evaluating.
This phenomenon, although true, is unfair, and can cloud decision-making when evaluating fellow workers or hiring potential employees. Thus, it is important to learn how stereotypes can affect decision-making, and cultural training can be of assistance in removing biases and prejudice towards those of another gender and/or culture.
Gender stereotypes continue to exist because they are reinforced by social and cultural norms. Many often mistakenly assume that women are less clever and less capable than men. In Malaysian culture, it can be difficult for men to accept a woman in a position of greater responsibility. Women in managerial positions of high status are rare. According to the McKinsey Proprietary Database, only 5% of Malaysian CEOs are women, and only 6% of those sitting on the boards of companies are female. But if we look at Western countries like Norway, for instance, women represent 35% of those sitting on the boards of companies. Going to the other end of the scale, we have countries like India, for example, where less than 1% of Indian CEOs are women. Even though Malaysians may not be the most guilty of gender stereotypes, we still have a long way to go.
The question now is: How can this situation be changed for the better? Here are some suggestions:
- Change the way jobs are structured or described to make them gender neutral. Jobs should not emphasize stereotypical masculine or feminine attributes. Application and hiring information should be gender neutral.
- Make it easier for women to work in male-dominated companies/industries by adapting working styles to allow women (and men) to accommodate family demands.
Women need to do their part as well. Many women perceive certain jobs as being traditionally male-dominated jobs, and thus refrain from even applying for them. Women have to train themselves to remove these imaginary barriers, and they need to see themselves as being capable of doing well in any job that they want.
There is often a strong economic case to be made for increasing female participation at all levels of the labor force. According to a recent research article called “Women Matter: An Asian Perspective”, in Malaysia, it is estimated that raising the participation rates of women to match those of Singapore or South Korea has the potential to increase Malaysia’s GDP by between RM6 billion and RM9 billion. Besides this, unless companies increase the number of women in senior management positions, they sacrifice two important sources of competitive advantage: having the best talent in an age of talent scarcity, and capitalizing on the particular performance benefits that women in leadership positions bring to an organization.
It will take a long time more before females and males are treated equally in the business environment. But all of us, whether male or female, can take the step of changing any mistaken assumptions and beliefs we personally have about gender roles. This will lead to a healthier working environment and performance benefits for the company as a whole.
By Boleh Blogger