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“If an organisation focuses on merit, gender won’t be an issue”
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“If an organisation focuses on merit, gender won’t be an issue”

Worldwide surveys show just ten per cent of senior management roles are held by women, but what is the secret to breaking the so-called Glass Ceiling? Muhammad Hafiz, 18, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, reports that being attuned to an organisation’s needs can position women to overcome the gender issue and become the right person for the job. 

Malaysia shares a reality with the rest of the world in having a “Glass Ceiling” of boundaries and limitations facing women who want to be on the company board or play a role in senior management.

Surveys have found only ten per cent of women have made it to the senior level in their respective organisations, both in Malaysia and globally.

Young Corporate Malaysians (YMC) took a look at “Shattering the Glass Ceiling” as part of its discussion on Managing Diversity in Leadership and Organisation during its 4th Annual Summit.  

Three dynamic women, each with personal experience in senior-level corporate life, were invited to share their insights on this issue. Ms Stephanie Gault is a Partner at Accenture APC, Ms Aireen Omar is the CEO at AirAsia, and Ms Nor Abd Manf is head of Group Human Capital at Maybank. As representatives of both the public and private sector, the speakers exchanged insights with each other and with delegates. The session was moderated by Ms Nor Azah Razali, a Partner and Managing Director of The Boston Consulting Group in Kuala Lumpur.

One fact that clearly shows the situation for women aiming for a senior management position comes from Ms Aireen, who told delegates she is currently the only woman among AirAsia’s Board of Members.

The case is an example that shows gender diversity can be a major problem for a company. It has become well known that women are under-represented in terms of leadership. Yet it is crucial to implement diversity that will bring the balance of differing views and abilities to a range of business aspects.

The secret to reducing and overcoming the limitations of the Glass Ceiling is to outsource low priority areas and focus on core competencies, says Ms Stephanie.

“Challenge is not about the “Glass Ceiling”, but rather in multiple levels, facing the challenges, and coming out intact without “damages”,” she says.

Challenge also refers to priorities that can change frequently over time, says Ms Stephanie.

The Glass Ceiling was not a factor for Ms Nora. From her perspective, she never saw herself as a woman in the workforce to be treated differently. That positive view is shared by Ms Aireen. She regards work as her responsibility and does what she needs to do to excel in it.

Diversity comes in many forms. For Ms Nora it’s a diverse background spanning HR, consultancy, IT and stints in banking, all while working in different geographic areas around the globe. Ms Aireen shares a similarly diverse professional background, from investment banking in the Big Apple’s Wall Street (New York, U.S.A.) to Malaysia, where as AirAsia’s investment banking person-in-charge she has been unique in overseeing increased growth for the company.

“If an organisation focuses on merit, gender won’t be an issue. When you are accountable to what you are doing, you want to ensure that you do the best, and not to fail,” says Ms Aireen.

Tan Sri Tony Fernandes encourages his team to be entrepreneurial, says Ms Aireen. That means moving fast and adjusting to market conditions. She believes that it is not because of gender that few females are board members of organizations. Instead she believes it is about finding the right person for the position.

A fact presented to delegates is that only a third of Fortune 500 companies name diversity as a top issue. Surprising? Both Ms Stephanie and Ms Nora are believers in the use of metrics.

“Diversity is still a challenge to most organisations. However does it really bring real benefits to the organisations? Need metrics to prove,” says Ms Nor Azah.

Successfully tackling the Glass Ceiling and diversity issues requires greater understanding of the issue, for people to own the problem, and for more  influential leaders to take action, according to Ms Nora.

“There is also “reverse mentoring” where the “old dogs” can also learn new tricks,” she says.

Panellists offered strategies for advancing in the corporate world.

“Think of yourself as a five-year-old,” says Ms Stephanie. “Always (be) asking why, never thinking it is impossible, and always making friends.”

“Look at the glass (as) half-full. You should always have that perspective,” Ms Nora recommends.

Overall, this year’s Annual Summit of Young Corporate Malaysians has been tremendous as it doesn’t involve any political influences. Knowledge shared throughout the summit was also shared on Twitter using at  #YCMSummit and on Facebook. 

If the aim of a summit is to sort something out, get things done and have discussions sparked between speakers and delegates without any controversial influences, this is a good example for upcoming summits.

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About me:

“I am an ordinary Malaysian home-grown youth, shaped by experiences sparked by my various interests while continuing as a player in the game of life. I’m currently studying for a Diploma in Communication and Media at MARA University of Technology in Melaka, Malaysia.”

“I love almost everything in life that the world has to offer. I am currently a volunteer with Petrosains, a subsidiary of Petronas; one of Malaysia’s Campus Ambassadors attached to Bloomberg; the Social Media Strategist for the AllArtCore photography team based in Malaysia; and a Student Representative for both the Malaysia-based EYE Project and the U.S.-based Mozilla Foundation.”

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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