Findings show 37% of senior corporate positions now held by female executives, up from 31% last year

PETALING JAYA: The results of a recent survey, which showed that more women are in senior leadership positions in business, has been lauded by the corporate sector.

The annual Women in Business Report, by global professional services network Grant Thornton, showed that 37% of senior corporate leadership positions are now held by women, up from 31% last year.

This has been achieved despite the challenges of Covid-19, Grant Thornton noted.

Founder and managing director of Engender Consultancy Omna Sreeni-Ong said this increase is very encouraging and may be attributed to the increased spotlight on women.

“Perceptive companies are beginning to recognise the value of having women in senior positions and are taking proactive steps to ensure policies are in place to create an enabling environment and culture to facilitate women’s progression towards more senior decision-making roles.”

She added the Malaysian government’s policy to have 30% women in senior positions has been consistently pushed forward by various leading organisations and agencies, including Bursa Malaysia, and leaders in the private sector.

Chief executive officer of the American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) Siobhan Das said as Malaysia continues on its journey to keep women in the workforce, numbers reflected in reports like this are a good tracker.

“In an ideal world, we would like to see it rise to 50%, and we should continue to pursue this goal at every opportunity,” she told theSun.

“Diversity in leadership is good for business. In Malaysia, diversity is a recognised strength. However, a lot more is needed to enable an environment for women to flourish and companies’ actions lie at the heart of this.”

She added there has been a consistent push by the Malaysian government to have women in senior positions, both through its policies and appointments, especially in the civil service and government-linked companies.

“In 2018, we saw more women in the Cabinet and key institutions. This included Malaysia’s first woman chief justice as well as deputy prime minister.”

In terms of leadership assessment, Siobhan cited a study by Harvard Business Review that rated women more effective as leaders than men, and the gap has widened during the pandemic.

“This is a possible indication that women tend to perform better in a crisis. They are making significant strides into roles that have been typically male dominated, from taxi drivers to pilots.”

A women’s interest group has, however, cast doubts on the findings, citing other research that showed a reduction in women’s participation in the workforce.

Selangor Friends of Women Association secretary Suguna Papachan cast doubts on the Grant Thornton findings.

She said female labour participation rate in Malaysia is only 38.6%, the lowest in Asean.

“Thailand is way ahead at 45.7%. This shows that the work environment in the formal sector is not supportive (of women’s progression to leadership roles).”

Suguna said it is more likely that women are taking the lead in the informal sector, such as network marketing and small and medium businesses, rather than the formal sector.

“Another possible reason for the rise, as stated by Grant Thornton, is that more women are holding senior positions in their own companies.”