Leading lady of business
Malaysian women are making inroads in dispelling the misplaced myth that a woman's place is in the kitchen
- Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansour, Malaysian Prime Minister's wife.
- Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News
If some believe the presence of women in certain high positions is more of a matter of being superficial, then surely these positions can't include that of a central bank governor, head of securities commission or a senior rank at large corporation — as is the case in Malaysia.
In the emerging Asian economy, more and more women are choosing finance, trade and economic careers. Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansour, wife of the Malaysian Prime Minister Dato' Seri Najeeb Tun Razzaq, said women were further pushing up the levels of their ambitions. .
"I have been talking to women in the private sector (and) the public sector. What amazes me is that women nowadays occupy the positions [in] middle-level decision making [management]," Rosmah said.
However, "not so much of the upper posts of the decision making, so maybe that is what we have to fight for now," she added in an exclusive interview with Gulf News during her visit to Dubai to participate in a conference on women and leadership.
During the conference, Tan Sri Dato' Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, the first woman ever to hold the position of central bank governor in Malaysia, was honoured for her achievements, among other women whose various achievements in different fields, including education and environment, were recognised. Another woman in a high-ranking post in the country is Tan Sri Zarinah, chairman of the Malaysian Security Commission.
According to her, one of the reasons behind her compatriots' success was the collective efforts of women.
"To me, if you want to be heard, you have to be together, to work together, fight as one voice, rather than individuals. So when you have a big group of women getting themselves together, the government has to listen. [However,] I think Malaysia has a fair government," she said, adding that the vital role played by women in national affairs started during the fight for independence and received a boost much later as women grabbed government-backed opportunities for equal education.
Describing education as key to the advancement of women, Rosmah said it also made women "progressive" in their thinking and opened up new windows for them to pursue their ambitions.
Meanwhile, official and international figures have recognised the noticeable strides made by Malaysian women. Women constitute nearly 49 per cent of the total population of Malaysia, which stands at 13 million. Nearly 47 per cent of women in the employable age group were in the labour force in 2008.
Official figures show that female decision makers in top management positions in the public sector rose from 18.8 per cent in 2004 to 22.8 per cent in 2008. The achievement, apparently, came in line with a policy introduced by the government in 2004 to have at least 30 per cent women in decision-making positions at all levels.
In the corporate sector, officials acknowledged that the participation of women at the decision-making level was still "under-represented" with the percentage of women as members of the board of directors declining from 9.9 per cent in 2004 to 6.1 per cent in 2008.
The percentage of women holding the positions of general manager to president or chief executive officer increased gradually from 13.5 per cent in 2004 to 26.2 per cent in 2008.
Meanwhile, the number of female employers rose from 3.23 million in 2000 to 3.57 million in 2005. Rosmah said the increase came as a result of several factors, including "encouraging" and "growing interest of women in entering the business field".
"Then again, because of education and the outlook to the outside world, they [women] travel, they watch television, read magazines and newspapers…They themselves are being encouraged to become businesswomen. And besides that, the government encourages women to become entrepreneurs and to become [decision makers in] the economic sector."
"The women are really very committed to what we are doing and ambitious as well, and very brave. I mean [that for a woman] to be in that (business) sector, you have to be very brave," Rosmah said.
The rising levels of interest shown by women for careers in business and finance manifests itself in the increasing number of female students joining business-related collages in Malaysia.
"Most of the (female) students... are doing finance, they are doing economics, they do business administration, business management [courses]… They are interested in going into business with the opportunities available given by the government. That makes them more determined to go into business and to become successful," she said.
"I think to go into business is something... to be [a] successful businesswomen, that is another level [of] the [determination shown by women]," she added.
Worldwide, Malaysia is ranked fifth on the index measuring senior positions held by women in medium to large enterprises (MLEs).
Almost four in 10 MLEs (39 per cent) have three or more women holding senior positions, according to a recent study carried out by accounting and consulting firm Grant Thornton International. The same study also showed that the number of female leaders in MLEs had increased from 23 per cent in 2007 to 31 per cent last year. The data was collected at the end of last year, and the study covered 7,200 privately held businesses across 36 economies.
Malaysia is tied in fifth position with China, Taiwan and Mexico. Among the top countries to have a high percentage of women in senior management positions are the Philippines (47 per cent), Russia (42 per cent), Thailand (38 per cent) and Poland (32.5 per cent). The countries on the other end of the scale include Japan, (7 per cent) Belgium (12 per cent) and Denmark (13 per cent), the study showed.
Globally, sectors with the highest percentage of women in leading positions are health and education (35 per cent) and hospitality (34 per cent).
The worst drop was witnessed in the financial services sector, with women losing ground from 31 per cent in 2007 to 26 per cent last year.
While both men and women are affected by the recession, urban woman have borne the brunt of the global economic crisis more than "self-sufficient" rural women, Rosmah explained. Urban women felt the effects of falling purchasing power and rising prices in comparison to their earnings.
Nearly 70 per cent of Malaysia's population is urban, according to 2008 figures.
Rosmah said she would like to see more and more women active and visible in the development of their country, hand in hand with men.
Things should be done fairly and not on gender-biased bases. Merit, ability and capability "should be the bases of choosing women to go up in the corporate world and economic sector", she said.
Born in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan on December 10th 1951, Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansour has come a long way from her home in the suburbs and her secondary schooling at the Tunku Khursiah College, a prestigious boarding school in Malaysia.
She obtained a Bachelor's degree in Sociology and Anthropology and a Masters degree in Sociology and Agriculture Extension from the University Malaya and Louisiana State University in 1974 and 1978 respectively.
After that she returned back to her home country to launch her corporate career.
She also worked at the Agricultural Bank of Malaysia until 1983, and then took on the position of Business Development Manager at the Island and Peninsular Berhad where she served until 1987.
Later, she left Island and Peninsular to devote her time to her responsibilities as a politician's wife.
Apart from her duties, she also holds the position of patron for various associations whose focus ranges from children's development to management.