Getting women to come back to work

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By Joseph Wong

In the coming decades, the demographic landscape of the nation is poised to undergo a significant transformation, particularly in terms of its ageing population, which implies a dwindling workforce. It is projected that individuals aged 65 and above will constitute a substantial portion, amounting to approximately 14% of the total population within the next twenty years.

This demographic shift carries profound implications for the country's socioeconomic development and fiscal outlook, as highlighted by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim recently. Without adequate attention and strategic interventions, the repercussions could be far-reaching and multifaceted.

He emphasised that one of the most notable impacts of this demographic transition is the anticipated decline in the working-age population and productivity levels. With a smaller proportion of the population actively engaged in the workforce, there may be strains on various sectors of the economy, potentially hampering overall growth and development.

An immediate solution is to entice the women who have left the workforce due to caregiving responsibilities, personal reasons or other factors. Assisted-living enterprise ReU Living chief executive officer Anna Chew pointed out that it is sad that many women have left the workforce due to caregiving responsibilities, among others, as it meant taking out their professional expertise from the workplace. 

And even if they were willing to rejoin the workforce, many women continue to face challenges after extended periods away despite the significant progress in gender equality and women's empowerment. The economic repercussions of women's underrepresentation in the workforce are substantial, underscoring the urgency of implementing strategies to reintegrate them into gainful employment. 

One of the primary barriers preventing women from reentering the workforce is the lack of flexible work options that accommodate their diverse needs and responsibilities. Employers can address this challenge by offering flexible work arrangements such as remote work, part-time schedules, job-sharing and flexible hours. These options allow women to balance their professional and personal commitments more effectively, making it easier for them to transition back into the workforce.

Many women face difficulties reentering the workforce due to outdated skills or gaps in their resumes. To address this issue, organisations and government agencies can provide skills development and training programmes tailored to women returning to work. These programnes can include upskilling workshops, career coaching, resume building, interview preparation, and certification courses. By equipping women with relevant skills and knowledge, these initiatives enhance their employability and confidence, facilitating a smoother transition back into the workforce.

Late last year, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri said her ministry would focus on three areas to increase female labour participation from 56.2% to 60%.

These are better policies and laws, an ecosystem to support women as well as training, capacity building, upskilling and reskilling programmes but the results have yet to be realised.

Certainly, creating a supportive work environment is essential for encouraging women to return to work and thrive in their careers. Employers can implement policies that promote diversity, inclusion, and work-life balance, such as parental leave, child care assistance, breastfeeding support and employee assistance programmes. Additionally, fostering a culture of mentorship, networking, and professional development opportunities can empower women to excel in their roles and advance their careers.

Unconscious bias and gender stereotypes often hinder women's career progression and discourage them from reentering the workforce. Organisations can combat these barriers by raising awareness about gender bias, promoting diversity and inclusion training, and implementing recruitment and promotion practices based on merit rather than gender. Creating a culture of equality and respect where women feel valued and empowered is crucial for attracting and retaining female talent.

Government agencies, employers, non-profit organisations, and community groups can collaborate to create comprehensive support systems for women reentering the workforce. By pooling resources, sharing best practices, and coordinating efforts, these stakeholders can amplify their impact and address the multifaceted challenges faced by women returning to work. Collaborative initiatives may include job fairs, networking events, mentorship programnes, and financial assistance schemes tailored to women's needs.

Empowering women and facilitating their return to work is not only a matter of gender equality but also crucial for economic growth, innovation, and social progress. By implementing flexible work arrangements, providing skills development and training programs, fostering supportive workplace policies, addressing bias and stereotypes, and promoting collaboration and partnerships, we can create a more inclusive and equitable workforce where women have the opportunity to thrive and contribute their talents fully. Together, we can build a future where women are empowered to achieve their professional aspirations and fulfil their potential.

This article was first published in Star Biz7.

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