In today’s (slightly unsurprising) news, working mothers in Malaysia are having a hard time finding jobs that support their needs to balance home and work life. Malaysian employers are also facing a crisis: the number of women leaving the workforce is growing, and they’re pointing the blame squarely at a lack of flexibility. Despite the fact that there have been multiple calls for employers to implement flexible working arrangements over the last decade, there are still a large number who have yet to make any sort of changes that will benefit working mothers.
This, coupled with an unsupportive work climate for working mothers, is pushing many Malaysian women to look for new work opportunities. A Malaysian recruitment firm recently published the findings of their annual survey, and the results show a clear problem in the Malaysian workforce when it comes to addressing the needs of working mums.
“Globally, flexible working arrangements are becoming a normal part of employers’ offerings, in line with the needs of the modern workforce – but it seems like there is still some alignment that needs to happen between companies and employees in Malaysia. Women in Malaysia clearly want to work, but they are not provided with a supportive environment or business infrastructure that allows them both to care for their families and contribute to the workplace. This is no doubt a key reason why 94% of women surveyed said they are currently searching for a new job.” – Abhijeet Mukherjee, CEO of Monster.com
The study surveyed about 2,600 working mothers across Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, aiming to identify challenges faced by women and working mothers in the workplace. The study aims to raise the attention given to these issues by employers, who are encouraged to consider more family-friendly arrangements to aid in increasing employee retention and lowering the overall attrition of the female workforce.
So why are so many mothers quitting their jobs?
Based on the results of the survey, the biggest issue pushing women to quit their jobs is the lack of flexibility (75%). Concerns about the standard of childcare that they would be able to get for their children while they were at work came second (60%), while more than half of the respondents said they were compelled to quit due to an unsupportive boss or work environment (55%).
Monster Malaysia, who conducted the survey on working mothers, also released a short video in conjunction with the survey:
A recent campaign by Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), entitled Invisible Women, was launched to highlight the discrimination faced by pregnant women and working mothers in Malaysia. Part of the campaign included asking women to submit their personal stories of being discriminated against in the workplace for being pregnant, wanting to start a family, wanting to take maternity leave, and so on.
Some of the testimonials echo the concerns expressed by the 2,600 women surveyed:
“My employer often [makes] remarks whenever leave is taken to care for a sick child. She even asked me to [send] my child to my mum at a kampung (village) so that I will not be disturbed by my own child… I leave work at 6.30pm, which is an extra hour than my working hours, as she expect[s] her employees to stay working until late at night.” – Madam D, Associate at a law practice
“I am a single mother of one going through a divorce. My Head of Department (HOD) and managers are aware of it but they force me to do overtime with no pay because of my job grade, and work on weekends and closing days until 12am. My child needs me as he is in a very difficult mental state right now coping with the divorce but my company just doesn’t care and [keeps] pressuring me. My HOD told me that if I’m not happy I should leave.” – Sara, mid-senior level worker in insurance.
What’s keeping mothers from returning to their jobs?
Flexible working arrangements wouldn’t just help employers retain their female talent – they could help entice mothers back to the workplace. Sadly, too many mums find that without a flexible work arrangement, the prospect of returning to work is just too much. When asked about their biggest worries when returning to work after having a child, more than half of them said they struggle with the emotional process of leaving a newborn at home (55%). Others said they would worry about getting the right childcare arrangement that would let them feel comfortable returning to work (47%). Almost half (49%) said their decision to go back to work was purely for financial reasons.
There are programmes that were set up to address this very problem; flexWorkLife.my, a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and Talent Corp Malaysia was set up to facilitate the return of women to the workplace. Despite their work to get more Malaysian companies to implement flexi-hours, a staggering 58% of employees in Malaysia are unable to work from home and 36% don’t have any option for flexible working arrangements. This has led to a staggering 94% (that’s nearly all working mums) saying that they would be looking for a new job within the next year.
What about new mothers coming back to work?
The challenges don’t stop there for working mothers – after taking the leap to come back to work, many face a new set of challenges. Widespread discrimination and social stigma against women who make the choice to raise a family while also pursuing a career mean that oftentimes the pressure to balance home life with working life falls to women themselves.
More than half of working mothers admitted that they struggle to balance their duties in the office and keep things running at home (53%). Some felt that as female professionals, they were not being awarded the same career opportunities at men (38%), while others believed that the way they are perceived by their colleages and bosses affects their upward mobility (32%).
It’s not just the social climate in the workplace that’s holding women back, either. A lack of policies and facilities that cater to the needs of working mothers is hindering their progress too. Less than a third of the women surveyed said their workplace offers some flexibility or adjusted workload for working moms (28%). In terms of facilities, only 12% said their workplaces have a dedicated lactation room for pumping breast milk, and only 10% said they had an option of child day-care at work.
How can employers begin to address the problems faced by working mothers?
When asked what employers could do or change to address the particular needs and concerns of working mothers, 46% said employers should instil some type of flexible arrangement that is in line with a mother’s needs. 20% suggested that employers could consider a transition period for new mothers returning to work – for example, part time hours for the first one or two months after returning.
This advice is not new to Malaysian employers – in 2013 and 2016, the Malaysian Employers’ Federation released media statements detailing the benefits of introducing flexi hours to increase productivity and to encourage more women to join the workforce. Similarly, in 2013, Talent Corp Malaysia conducted a survey on female employment and retention in Malaysia, entitled Retaining Women in the Workforce, which identified a lack of work-life balance as one of the main reasons why women leave the working world. The study also recommended key areas of improvement for employers to retain women in the workforce, including adopting flexible working arrangements, providing maternity benefits and affordable, high quality childcare.
What steps have already been taken to ease the burden of Malaysian working mothers?
Steps have been taken to bring awareness to the issue, and to reward employers who provide a supportive environment for working mothers. In 2015, Talent Corp launched the Career Comeback Programme, aimed at facilitating and increasing career opportunities for women looking to return to the workforce. This includes working with employers on attracting and retaining a diverse range of talent, through the implementation of work-life practices and other support practices. This year, Talest Corp launched the Career Comeback ReIGNITE Award to give recognition to Malaysian employers who made the hiring of ‘career comeback women’ their priority.
Women make up over half the world’s population, and potential. The mindset that women have less to offer than their male counterparts, especially if they should choose to take on the responsibilities of raising a child, is outdated and damaging. The evidence seems to scream that there is an overwhelming need for employers to start listening to the needs of women if they are to retain an essential part of their workforce. Their demands are not unreasonable, nor are they unfeasible.
We have seen recent changes in Malaysia that signal our movement towards a future that is more inclusive of female perspectives, so here’s hoping that our new future will include more local employers who prioritise the needs of working mothers!
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