Have merit quotas so women can rise up corporate ladder, says activist

Activist Noor Farida Ariffin says highly educated women are dropping out of the workforce because of motherhood and the lack of creches at their workplace.

KUALA LUMPUR: Activist Noor Farida Ariffin has called for more women-friendly policies in the private sector, including having merit quotas to help them rise up the corporate ranks.

Noor Farida, who is also the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) chairman, said having quotas was a temporary measure to increase women’s participation in the workforce but stressed that they should be quotas with merit to prevent resentment among employees.

The former ambassador explained that quotas were part of the “temporary special measures” as underlined in Article 4.1 of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedcaw), which Malaysia ratified in 1995.

“The article states that there must be a time limit, monitoring and evaluation to see if you have achieved a certain degree of parity,” she told FMT on the sidelines of a gender equality forum organised by law firm Lee Hishammuddin Allen & Gledhill.

A Cedaw committee report published in March 2018 recommended that Malaysia expand the use of temporary special measures, including introducing quotas and outreach programmes, to achieve gender equality.

Certain parties have criticised the implementation of such quotas for women in the workforce, with some describing them as special treatment.

Noor Farida said the private sector needed to implement extra measures such as flexible working hours, extended maternity and paternity leave and guaranteed re-entry into the workforce for women who had taken extended maternity leave.

She said data from the Department of Statistics showed an increase in women participation in the workforce from 46.8% in 2010 to 54.8% in the fourth quarter of 2017.

However, she pointed to a World Bank report that said Malaysia had the lowest rate of women workforce participation among the Asean countries.

“According to statistics, highly educated women are dropping out of the workforce because of motherhood and lack of creches,” she said, adding that such facilities should be made available so they could check in on their children, and those breastfeeding them might do so during lunch time.

Noor Farida said flexible working hours would mean that women whose children fell sick could come to work later.

She said re-entry programmes should also be introduced for women who left the workforce to take care of their babies.

“If women leave work to have children, they can come back at almost the same level (before they took maternity leave),” she said.

The Cedaw report also recommended the government provide a time-frame for the adoption of a Gender Equality Act which defines and prohibits all forms of discrimination against women.

During the panel discussion, Noor Farida said the act was currently being drafted.

“Our employment act states equal pay for equal work, but in some companies in the private sector, this doesn’t happen,” she said, adding that “for every RM1 a man earns in the private sector, women only earn RM 0.76”.