Career Guide

Retaining women employees: Employers need to be flexible

“Corporate Malaysia needs to do more to retain women in the workforce. Not for welfare reasons but because it’s good for business and it’s the right thing to do.”
– Johan Mahmood Merican, chief executive officer, TalentCorp. “Corporate Malaysia needs to do more to retain women in the workforce. Not for welfare reasons but because it’s good for business and it’s the right thing to do.” – Johan Mahmood Merican, chief executive officer, TalentCorp.

There is constant competition for the best skills and talent to manage organisations. Women, who make up approximately half of the global population, are looked upon as assets that can help accelerate the value chain for aspiring economies. A challenge faced by organisations across the world today is to retain qualified and professional women in the workforce. Whilst there is a large pool of women entering the workforce upon graduation, only a handful remain to take up positions in the higher level management of organisations.

This scenario seems to be prevalent in Malaysia. According to the World Bank – Malaysian Economic Monitor; November 2012 Report, the labour force participation rate among women remained low at 46% compared with Asean countries like Singapore (60%) and Thailand (70%). The report also revealed that “the number of working women who are employed or looking for employment is lower in Malaysia as compared with other countries with similar income levels”.

“Malaysia has the opportunity to accelerate its transformation into a high-income economy if more women were in the labour force. Closing gender gaps and encouraging women to bring their skills to the labour market could leapfrog Malaysia to high income status,” says Annette Dixon, World Bank country director for Malaysia.

Why is Malaysia faced with a shortage of women in the workforce? What are the obstacles and burdens they faced that took them out of the workforce? How can employers address this issue? To get better insight on these matters, TalentCorp (Talent Corp Malaysia Bhd) and ACCA (The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) conducted a joint survey on female employment and retention in Malaysia entitled Retaining Women in the Workforce.


According to the survey, there are three main reasons as to why women leave the working world:

To raise a family

The number one reason why women leave their jobs is to raise a family. Many resign once they get married but the majority leave their job upon having a baby, according to this survey. Why is this happening? Well, with the arrival of a baby and no one to look after the child, most women opt to resign and take on the task themselves. This is because they are reluctant to leave their newborn with child minders. Even if there are qualified and very good childcare centres around, the fee is high and some of these women can’t afford the extra expenditure with the arrival of their little one.

Lack of work-life balance

Lack of work-life balance is also seen as a major reason. Long hours at work that takes up their whole day may seem normal when they are single but is not appropriate once they are married or if they have a child. There is no balance between family life and work. Some even continue working once they reach home until the wee hours of the morning. This can be hazardous to one’s health, let alone family relations.

To care for a family member

Caring for an elderly or a sick family member also prompts women to resign. As a man is seen as the main breadwinner, women become the first option when there is a necessity to look after a family member. When it becomes unaffordable to hire a care giver for an elderly or sick family member, the women of the family are usually the ones who sacrifice their career in order to care for these members.

Most of the time, when women resign from their jobs due to these reasons, their initial plan is to come back to the workforce after a certain duration. They take this as a short time-off to settle their issues. However, out of the 93% of women on a career-break who considered re-entering the workforce, 63% of them find it difficult to come back. Only 30% make it back to work.


Key recommendations for employers on how to retain women in the workforce have been drawn up based on this survey. These are:

Adopting flexible working arrangements

The survey shows that women are attracted to flexible working arrangements. These arrangements comprise flexi-working hours where it enables an employee to adjust the time she starts work and the time she finishes around the set core hours. Besides that, it can also involve telecommuting/working from home. This gives an employee the chance to work from home and helps in reducing the cost, time and stress of commuting. Flexible working arrangements have been known to increase productivity in an organisation as a happy employee always performs best.

Maternity benefits

The needs of a new mother must be given importance in an organisation. Companies are now asked to look into increasing maternity leave from 60 to 90 days which can actually increase the retention rates. The extended maternity break enables a woman to recover well from her childbirth ordeal and post-delivery stress. It also gives her ample time to bond with her newborn and make sound childcare arrangements.

Affordable, high quality childcare

Working mothers who are given this benefit look up to their organisations as being more understanding of their needs. Thus, their loyalty increases and they are geared up to go back to work after their hiatus. Working mothers constantly worry about the well-being of their little ones and are always looking for reliable and reputable childcare centres. Ideally, organisations can start their own childcare centre to cater for their female employees. Having the knowledge that their children are being looked after well, will put their minds at ease and focus better on their work.

Sexual harassment and security

Organisations should be more sensitive towards the safety and security of their women employees. Best practices in this area would include establishing and enforcing a broad sexual harassment policy and providing security guard escort or transport services for women that work late at night to their chosen mode of transport - be it their car in a parking lot or the nearest LRT station. Women in organisations have to be provided with skills to take on higher positions. Intensive and remedial training must be given for women and the qualified ones must be accelerated to higher positions to encourage more women to step up and take on bigger responsibilities in the organisation.

Skill training

Employers are urged to look into and implement ways that will benefit their women employees and retain them at work in order to reach success in productivity. Employers must open their eyes and look beyond gender and across all realms of diversity in order to achieve their full potential.