Career women find it difficult to return to workforce

KUALA LUMPUR: For all the talk that many women are leaving the work place because they prefer a life of leisure, Talent Corp now has figures to prove otherwise.

A report, titled Retaining Women in the Workforce, has found that an overwhelming 93% of 824 women respondents who left their jobs have considered re-entering the workforce but 63% found it difficult to do so.

The report, launched on Feb 21, is based on a survey jointly conducted by Talent Corp and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).

According to the report, women who leave the workforce only intend to do so temporarily, but the hiatus may unintentionally become permanent if the women fail to get back to work before their skills become “rusty”.

"Many employers don’t see the need to change things from how things work now," says Johan Merican Mahmood, CEO of Talent Corp "Many employers don’t see the need to change things from how things work now," says Johan Merican Mahmood, CEO of Talent Corp

“Women who have taken a hiatus are also perceived to be less committed than employees who have never left; they may be penalised in terms of slower career progression and passed over in favour of other candidates,” the report said.

But why is it hard for the women to come back to work?

According to Talent Corp chief executive officer Johan Mahmood Merican, this is largely due to the lack of a framework to assist these women back into the workforce and because many employers feel there is no need for one.

“I’ve had employers tell me ‘It’s a personal choice. Some of them enjoy their tai-tai life.’ Many employers don’t see the need to change things from how things work now. They think the current system works, and that it’s enough.

“But these are the facts – 93% have thought of coming back to work, and 63% are saying it’s hard to do so,” he said.

Why do women leave in the first place?

About 65% of the women in the survey said it was to raise a family, followed by complaints about lack of work-life balance (43%), while some wanted to care for a family member (38%).

Other reasons include expensive childcare (35%), lack of support facilities for women from employers (34%) and inflexible work arrangements (32%).

It was previously reported that the World Bank’s research shows that Malaysia only has a 46% of women participation rate in the workforce, much lower than that of other Asean countries. Of this number, 11% of women are represented in middle management, and a mere 5% actually make it to senior management and the C-suite.

Its report, Malaysia Economic Monitor: Unlocking Women’s Potential, noted that at least 500,000, and as many as 2.3 million Malaysian women were absent from the labour market – a talent pool which could help solve the woes of employers lamenting the need to bring back more Malaysian talent from abroad.

In the TalentCorp-ACCA survey, respondents were also asked to identify the top three measures which companies should put in place to retain women in the workplace. An overwhelming 86% said companies should offer “flexible work arrangements including part-time work”.

About 69% wanted support facilities for women and family, which included childcare centres, while 40% said competitive wages and other financial benefits would keep women in employment. When asked if their current or previous employers had a formal policy for flexible work arrangements or childcare support facility, the majority said “No”.

The good news is change can start small, Johan said.

“I can’t emphasise enough that companies don’t need to have this mega grand plan for such changes to happen. Just start with a small move – allow flexible hours – and grow from there.

“It need not be too costly an exercise,” he said.