Ranked 103 of 146 countries — that is Malaysia’s less-than-stellar position on the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Index.
Gender bias has long been a pertinent issue that has dogged our world of work, not just in positions of leadership but also in all layers of the workplace hierarchy. Women have had to bear the brunt of dated gender stereotypes, such as being “too emotional” for decision-making or preconceived assumptions of their abilities, particularly in male-dominated fields.
While this inequality is a global concern, viewing it through a local lens will reveal even more. The specific social and cultural contexts in Malaysia are creating compounded challenges for women in the workforce.
Being part of an Asian culture that is traditionally more rooted in family and marriage, Malaysian women are generally expected to prioritise motherhood over their professional responsibilities — even if that is not necessarily the case. On top of that, in a multicultural society, there is a higher risk of factors such as race and ethnicity causing women to be excluded from some opportunities.
These rampant micro-aggressions will inevitably add up, giving rise to stigmas and barriers that limit women’s economic participation or otherwise have an impact on their experience at work. Overcoming these subjective biases requires an objective solution — a role that technology and digitised human resources (HR) are stepping up to play, according to HR solutions experts.
Automating the hiring process
Removing barriers to entry for women in the workforce arguably starts at the very beginning of the funnel: at the recruitment process. By virtue of being machines, technology has the potential to weed out unconscious (and conscious) bias from this vital stage.
For instance, an automated test module can grade on set merit-based criteria, rather than rely solely on a recruiter’s opinion or run the risk of personal favour. If this is administered at the beginning of a candidate’s consideration process, employers will be assured that the shortlisted candidate is the best fit for the base technical needs of the position.
For Dhiva Karthik, managing consultant of CXL’s gender-equitable hiring feature Executive Search, this can help put an end to the lack of women’s representation across all industries, especially within STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)-related or technical areas. He says: “Out of 2,000 engineers placed, only about 40% are women and, among these, there are even fewer engineering managers who are women. Implementing more measures that can eliminate gender as a factor and improve the representation of women in these sectors will in turn trickle down to more women candidates aspiring to join and wanting to be leaders in these fields.”
Virtual tools to facilitate a better balance
Removing gender bias is not merely meeting the numbers, but also ensuring that women continue to feel supported and heard in the workplace. The HR industry has largely advocated the use of digital tools to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Productivity tools such as cloud office suites, collaborative platforms, and teleconferencing software facilitate remote working — giving employees the flexibility to complete their jobs even from outside the office, and on their own time.
Victor Phang, CEO of digital HR solutions provider WorkSmartly, believes this is especially impactful for women, as it enables them to better balance the multiple roles they are expected to play.
“Flexible working arrangements help workplaces to support the needs of employees with diverse personal and professional responsibilities, especially working parents and caregivers. To complement this, employers can also establish resource groups or support networks for working mothers, giving them a sense of mentorship and community,” says Phang, who believes these measures will help women rise to the positions of leadership that they deserve at work.
Digital performance management systems
Efforts to foster inclusion and equality in the workplace can also be supplemented by digital HR solutions platforms, such as performance reward and management systems.
Performance reviews — especially those with outdated metrics and traditional subjective feedback sessions — can be an avenue to perpetuate implicit bias and discrimination. Instead, Shane Mun, founder and CEO of performance management and rewards platform Vimigo, suggests that more companies adopt a digital performance management system hard-coded with objective metrics that openly holds everyone accountable to his or her goals, particularly in ensuring that diversity is maintained within a team.
On having a merit-based mindset at the outset of the hiring process, he says: “These metrics will be tied to specific outcomes, limiting room for personal opinion and creating a fair and transparent system. This can also help companies better monitor and measure the effectiveness of their diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, with specific targets related to diversity in the team or maintaining objectiveness in the decisions their leaders make.”
Although technology itself presents numerous opportunities to eliminate gender-coded bias in the workplace, effective (and human) implementation of these tools is the only way to maximise their potential. This means that companies themselves must employ people-centric strategies and policies that can truly guide technology in creating more gender-equitable workplaces.
With decision-makers among employers actively listening and adapting to the needs of their diverse workforces, and sharing accountability for shaping a more inclusive work environment, companies can develop a culture that values and prioritises gender equity — empowering all employees to reach their full potential, regardless of gender.
Chelsea Teoh is an editorial strategist and writer for Elliot & Co, a pioneer in the public relations space for small and medium enterprises/start-ups in Malaysia and Singapore