The Pre-Hiring Stage Is the Key Driver of Empowering Women at Work

Inevitably, these misconceptions have bled into a world of work where 72% of Malaysians have witnessed or experienced gender inequality.

The Pre-Hiring Stage Is the Key Driver of Empowering Women at Work
Whether consciously or subconsciously (or both), we still live in a world where women bear the brunt of gendered stereotypes - Pix Provided

By Dhiva Karthik, Managing Consultant of CXL’s Executive Search Division

103rd place out of 146 countries (or second-to-last among our ASEAN neighbours) — that is how far behind Malaysia currently is on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index.

While our gender parity has progressed over the years in areas like life expectancy or higher education, Malaysia still lags behind on many fronts in women’s empowerment: namely economic participation and female representation in positions of leadership.

Whether consciously or subconsciously (or both), we still live in a world where women bear the brunt of gendered stereotypes. These come in many dated forms: that a woman’s primary role is to take care of the home, that pregnancy is a liability to a company, that a mother is incapable of balancing both a successful career and a happy family.

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Inevitably, these misconceptions have bled into a world of work where 72% of Malaysians have witnessed or experienced gender inequality. Outright discrimination may be rare, but more often than not, women tend to have to work harder to earn their rightful seat at the table.

Biases Faced By Malaysian Women

From the “we don’t mean it that way” excuses to the “learn to take a joke!” remarks, women are often made to feel like their emotions have to be justified or be otherwise dismissed. This is especially true for societies like ours; I find that the long-running struggles of Malaysian women go beyond just gender or marital status.

Living in a country as wonderfully, culturally diverse as ours, Malaysian women are sometimes also confronted by an additional layer of bias: race and ethnicity. Additionally, due to being brought up in a more collectivist country, there is this strange expectation that they should be “more docile” or “more giving” — putting wider interests over their own, and even at the expense of their own.

It is especially important for workplaces to realise that these seemingly small incidents of gender-coded bias will add up, and that its consequences never stop at the individual woman. This contributes to widening the gender pay gap, limiting the representation of women in work and leadership, and worse: missing out on the far-reaching positive impact women can have on business and the workforce.

In a survey conducted by McKinsey in The United States of America, titled Women In The Workplace Year 2022 Report,  women leaders do more to support employee well-bring and foster inclusion. This is critical to any organisation because it improves employee satisfaction and ultimately, increases retention.

Greater gender diversity is not merely fulfilling a quota. It means more perspectives and more creativity, which fuels growth and translates to a more sustainable trajectory for businesses in any industry. Bringing a more empathetic and empowered workforce to the table, female leaders are also uniquely positioned to help connect businesses beyond a purely transactional level.

Empowering Women From Recruitment Stage

Malaysia has already taken steps to support a more equitable and inclusive world of work for women, such as drafting the Gender Equality Bill and the very recent amendments to the Employment Act, which protects pregnant women from being unfairly dismissed from their jobs simply for being pregnant and also have their maternity leave days extended.

While this is a commendable step in the right direction, I still feel there is room yet for improvement — because these measures are reactive to issues that already exist in the workplace, rather than proactively nipping them in the bud. Having been deeply involved in recruiting solutions throughout my time in HR, I believe that the greatest push for gender equality at work starts from the very beginning of the funnel: even before the hiring stage.

It is imperative that organisations strive to make purely merit-based hiring decisions. To do this, every stage of the process — from selection criteria all the way down to the job descriptions — must be gender-neutral and skill-focused. Even a small sentence encouraging women and underserved communities to apply (which is very popular on platforms like LinkedIn at the moment!) can make a difference in diversifying the company’s pool of applicants.

The team of recruitment specialists and interviewers must also represent the diversity they hope to see in the workplace. When fairness and inclusion are then constantly at the heart of their decisions, this can make a positive difference even when filling top executive positions! In fact, this was the very basis behind CXL’s Executive Search platform, which is driving gender inclusivity and diversity in HR recruitment solutions.

Beyond representation in the recruitment stage, it is also vital that women are actively connected to female mentors and leaders from the onboarding process onwards. Opportunities for women in senior-level positions to take ownership of empowering other women in the workplace is a strong catalyst not just for their personal growth, but also for broader cyclical change. Moreover, the upskilling programmes and resources made available for employees should also take into account the challenges faced by women at work, enabling them to better navigate the very nuanced world of business and leadership.

Multinational corporations may find it easier to allocate resources to drive these changes (albeit with less flexibility), whereas SMEs and startups are more likely to implement more far-reaching but smaller-scale measures. Although the scale of implementation may be different depending on the size and nature of the business, what ultimately matters is that affirmative action is taken now.

It is no longer an if, but a must, in the transformation of employment for the better: closing the gap between companies and best-fit talents — plus the gap of gender inequality towards a more inclusive world of work.

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