11 members of Corporate Malaysia weigh in on the kind of support women need in the workplace

They share their experiences of climbing the corporate ladder.

Managing director of Yayasan Hasanah Shahira Ahmed Bazari, managing director and head of corporate commercial banking of HSBC Malaysia Karel Avni Doshi and Roche Malaysia director of healthcare access and corporate affairs, Wong Sit Yin 

When it comes to gender parity in the workplace, Malaysia has much to be proud of. According to global non-profit organisation 30 Percent Club, we have the highest ratio of women — at 26.4% — in the top 100 public-listed companies of any Asian country, which is higher than the US (23.6%) and on a par with Canada (26.6%). Malaysia also has the highest percentage of women (33%) on senior management teams compared with a global average of 29%, according to the 2020 Grant Thornton International Business Report. But this does not mean the work is done or that we cannot do better. Members of Corporate Malaysia weigh in on this question: To continue climbing the corporate ladder, what kind of support do women need the most and what do you think holds them back?


Salima Bekoeva
Supply chain director, Heineken Malaysia

Having grown my career over 16 years at Heineken, I find that courage and curiosity are the biggest drivers on the road to success. Although it appears unconventional, especially as the supply chain of the beer industry appears to be male-dominated, I was always supported by the company to do the extraordinary. As women, we can support ourselves through self-advocacy. Have faith in your capabilities, #ChooseToChallenge, and be your biggest ambassador. I am proud that at Heineken Malaysia, we continue to shape an organisation that strives to be inclusive, diverse and equitable, creating an environment for women to thrive.


Dr Lim Li Sze
Founder and CEO, Medical Ventures

In Asian society, women are expected to man (pun intended) the house, which includes responsibilities like cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children, family and household. When tasked with the responsibility of also developing test kits, running an entire factory operation and marketing the tests to the entire nation and globally, one needs careful planning and a good support system, especially during the Movement Control Order period, when travelling and communication slowed down. To be able to deal with all this, I am blessed to have a wonderful family and an extended family who have been supportive all the way, doing their part to make sure the household runs seamlessly. Good planning, adherence to the SOPs (standard operating procedures) and people who support you are very crucial ingredients.


Shanthi Kandiah
Protector, Creador Foundation

In working life, women are unwittingly faced with challenges such as balancing between personal and professional choices and figuring out how to demonstrate confidence and assertiveness in what is still a mostly male-dominated corporate environment. To overcome this and continue climbing the corporate ladder, women need to be empowered to advocate more for themselves and their successes to be more visible and be taken more seriously by their superiors. Those in leadership positions need to encourage greater visibility of female employees, to ensure female voices are heard and to ensure women are fairly considered for leadership positions. Finally, women need to be empowered to be the drivers of their own financial destiny and to build their confidence and independence in making personal finance decisions for themselves.


Hemalatha Ragavan
CEO Philippines + head of international business development and exports, Etika Dairies

To achieve success in any endeavour, be it professional or personal, I believe a woman needs to be comfortable in her own skin and be able to step outside of her comfort zone to aim for her goal, however impossible it may seem. The only thing that can potentially hold a woman back is herself as we are our worst critics. I am a huge believer in pushing boundaries and in challenging the norm, as clichéd as it may sound. Self-belief, resilience and confidence are crucial to break that glass ceiling as that’s exactly what it is … a glass ceiling!


Datuk Kathleen Chew
Group legal counsel, YTL Corp Bhd

You are probably looking at a woman in her early thirties here, one who has made a great start to her career, got married and become a young mother. I would say that support with childcare is something that she needs the most at this point in her career. Support can mean having childcare facilities in the workplace or flexible working hours and, just as important, a spouse who shares the burden of childcare with her. It is when she can no longer maintain that tension of being a great mother and a great employee that she may give up on her career. If we are to thrive as a nation, we need to nurture our talents and ensure that women can continue pursuing their careers while bringing up the next generation.


Anamika Talwar
Managing director, Mercedes-Benz Services Malaysia

In my personal experience, to continue climbing the corporate ladder and reach the top rungs, women can benefit from a strong support system at home to help them balance their personal and professional commitments, mentors to guide them in their career development, as well as corporate practices and a culture that fosters diversity at all levels of the organisation. A significant number of women leave the workforce or reprioritise their career ambitions when they have children. Greater flexibility and suitable corporate policies around parental support can ease their transition to motherhood while maintaining career path continuity.


Karel Avni Doshi
Managing director and head of corporate, commercial banking, HSBC Malaysia

One of the greatest advantages that you can have in scaling the corporate ladder is having the right people around you. Seek out mentors and rely on their invaluable experience to guide you. It also helps to forge strong ties and have a clear stakeholder map to successfully navigate through the corporate environment. And remember, network, network, network!

Also, continuously upskill and reinvent yourself to stay relevant. Technology and digitalisation are changing everything at a rapid pace, and you need to make sure you remain an asset to your organisation. Advocate for yourself. Step up and take on the more daunting assignments — they offer tremendous exposure and invaluable experience.

Most importantly, it is about shifting mindsets and believing in yourself. Self-doubt is a big factor that holds women back. #ChooseToChallenge that inner voice, break the proverbial glass ceiling and manifest the impossible. The corporate world is competitive — for everyone. Harness the power in you and speak up. Find your purpose and press for progress.


Wong Sit Yin
Director, healthcare access and corporate affairs, Roche Malaysia

The attraction to women is not the climbing of the corporate ladder, but about defining our ability to take on new roles: bringing value and impact to the ecosystem with new thinking, approaches, perspectives, outlooks and outcomes. And what holds us back, generally, is the culture in the society that forms the norm, that places a woman’s role, and this has changed over time. There is also a mind barrier cast upon women, by ourselves and men, questioning: “What can a woman do?” In terms of support, first, let’s recognise the strengths and the agility of a woman. Then, help unleash the potential in us as equal individuals with a fit-for-purpose capability to take on a role for the best outcome. Women can also help lift each other up, enabling and becoming role models for others.


Dau Ming Seling
Partner and managing director, Klareco Commu-nications Malaysia

Our mindset and belief system are the first things we need to address, not for the sake of change itself but from a perspective that most of us are not brought up to aspire to — a seat at the board or management table. Therefore, we tend to view it as a static end goal, instead of a journey that will take us through different roles and experiences. It is slowly changing, but we need to cultivate an understanding and appreciation of a few things, such as there is no one pathway to the top and perfection does not equate to success or the next promotion. Stop looking for that and focus on delivering and doing what needs to be done well.

There is a need to understand and realise your true value, and have the courage and confidence to pursue what you believe in. And most importantly, to be guided by your values in your career as you are in life. We also need to realise that being successful is not a template or a single definition. If it were, then there would be no real differentiator between you and the next person, which puts you right in the middle of the rat pack. We need to be comfortable with feeling out of place, and there is no template for that.


Surina Shukri
CEO, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation

Over the years, we have seen women make progress in corporate leadership. However, we need to do more to eradicate the gender barrier and continue to encourage as well as equip more women to climb the corporate ladder.

I believe that what the mind can dream, the heart can achieve. It takes a lot of willpower, perseverance and, of course, the right tools, platforms and skills to grow our professional capabilities. Bigger things can only be achieved through education and the instilled behaviour of lifelong learning. Hence, a big part of what we do at MDEC is equipping people and businesses with skills and digital competencies. Also, having the confidence and support of those around you, be it family or colleagues, would be fundamental, and I am blessed to have both. The team at MDEC and my family are critical in the pursuit of my dreams.


Shahira Ahmed Bazari
Managing director, Yayasan Hasanah

There are three kinds of support we need as women who want to succeed in the corporate world. Women face the “double burden” of balancing motherhood and home duties with their careers. Women need “fair play” — a transparent and trustable human resources system that supports their needs in the workforce. For example, policies on promotion and pay need to be fair and transparent.

Second, there is the power of the network. Women should support women more. I have learnt a lot from the women leaders before me and from my own peers. Cross-sharing of experiences and learnings is so valuable for an individual to thrive and feel supported. And finally, I believe a spouse who is understanding and supportive is crucial. Without a supportive family and spouse, it will be hard to balance one’s various responsibilities in a mentally and emotionally sustainable way.

Being involved in third sector leadership, it is not the corporate ladder that motivates me, but the intrinsic drive to do good and to promote good in others. My role allows me to use my natural empathy, compassion and moral leadership to support positive social and environmental changes in Malaysia.


This article first appeared on Mar 8, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.


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