Putting women in leadership positions will help bring economic benefits to the nation, yet little has been done to promote them in the public or private spheres.
Women leadership and equal participation in all spheres of society have been identified as core components of a healthy nation and economy.
In Malaysian varsities, women now outnumber men among undergraduates and teaching staff. Yet, their talent is ignored and they continue to be overlooked for leadership roles.
The numbers tell the tale. In the Dewan Rakyat, women occupy only 14% of the 222 seats, and in the cabinet, only 15% of ministers are women.
It is no different in business. Globally, women make up only 22.8% of board members of the top 100 public-listed companies (PLCs). In Malaysia, the proportion is higher, at 29.9% but still short of the 30% target set years ago.
History has shown us the benefit of investing in education to promote leadership among women, particularly in the US where colleges and universities dedicated to girls have been around for nearly two centuries.
Research has shown that women who graduate from all-girl universities and colleges are two times more likely to go on to graduate school, medical school or earn doctorates than their sisters in co-ed universities.
They are also 1.5 times more likely to start their own businesses and enjoy 20% to 25% more in earnings.
Unless we act on it, Malaysia will continue to falter, and not just economically. Studies have shown that with increased economic engagement, poverty rates among women drops and access to more productive industries and more rewarding occupations rises.
In many ways, women’s leadership is the lynchpin that can lead to sustained community well-being and stability.
Malaysia is not unique in this imbalance. In other parts of Asia, women’s share of leadership positions has increased in the last two decades, but the pace of their rise to the senior-most levels remains slow.
Some may wonder why current measures to put more women in leadership positions are not gaining sufficient traction.
Perhaps we should reconsider the kind of educational offerings we now have to train them and then place them in such roles.
In other words, we should ask ourselves how we can identify women leaders to better be able to give them the break they deserve.
My view is that women leaders are not “found”, they are “made”. This can be done through a rigorous yet inclusive process that merges explicit leadership training across a range of industries and subject matters with real-world applications such as apprenticeship, internship and job placement.
This raises the visibility of role models that other women can look up to for inspiration and to get to know the possibilities in their chosen line of work.
It can also establish networks that reinforce the promotion of women into leadership positions from one generation to the next.
One such programme, which will be launched at the Penang-based Asian Women’s Leadership University College (AWLUC) in September 2024, will offer a liberal arts and sciences curriculum supplemented by leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship courses for women in Malaysia, greater Asia, and other burgeoning economies in the Middle-East and Africa.
The AWLUC will offer leadership-focused degrees at multiple levels to women from all sectors.
The pedagogical approach will build up students’ self-confidence with strong female role models and students will take up leadership roles in campus organisations and through internships.
This is important since studies show that we must address leadership in all walks of life, and at multiple levels of seniority. For instance, increasing the number of women leaders in public institutions can help them feel better represented and creates a snowball effect that further advances women’s leadership as a whole.
At the same time increasing women’s leadership within corporates has been shown to enhance long-term profitability and reduce unnecessary risk-taking.
More than ever, we need women leaders to help us solve complex problems in the political, environmental and social spheres. We would all do well to take a look at ourselves and see what piece of this challenging puzzle we are most able to contribute to.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
Source : FMT