Malaysia has moved on, embracing and accepting the talents of women. The Grant Thornton International Business Report revealed that Malaysia has the highest number of women in the workforce – up to 40% – compared with other Asean countries.
I AM surrounded by women – in a positive way. Until a few years back, I was the only man in the house.
Now, besides my wife, four other females play a key role in my life – my mother-in-law, daughter, maid and my female poodle. Before my sister-in-law got married, she also lived with us.
These days, her two sons come to my house, which is like a daycare centre for my sister-in-law and her husband.
Both my wife and daughter are opinionated and strong-minded, even stubborn, in many ways. The days of submissive women are long over in Malaysia.
My 23-year-old daughter has set the record for being the first law graduate in three generations of Wongs, and is now chambering with a law firm.
The change in gender composition in my life has been really radical because I grew up without sisters, only three brothers.
It would have been nice to have a sister. I am the youngest in the family but I know my parents wanted a daughter too. In the 1960s, there was no scan to tell the sex of the child before birth, and so it was a lot of guessing and hoping.
Actually, my parents were so sure I would be a girl, a sort of wishful thinking, that they even had an English female name ready for me. That was what I was told, but my parents have never confirmed that little piece of information.
And so when I was born, it was just another son to my father who did not bother to turn up immediately at the midwife’s clinic in King Street, which is within walking distance of the old Star office in Penang.
My male-dominated life continued with my enrolment into St Xavier’s Institution for primary and secondary education. Except for Sixth Form, which is co-ed, SXI is an all-boys’ school.
I played football, spent plenty of time at the river near my home catching fish, and, until my hormones began raging during my teenage years, it was just the company of boys for me.
So, from an all-male home, except for my mum, I moved on to an all-female home in Kuala Lumpur. That’s how it changed.
In many ways, it also indicates how Malaysia has moved on, embracing and accepting the talents of women.
When I first joined The Star as a cub reporter, as the most junior journalist was known then, I was interviewed by then editor-in-chief Hng Hung Yong, the Cambridge and Harvard-trained journalist. He remains a journalist today, and certainly a respected one with his intellect.
That was just after I finished my Sixth Form exams, and I left The Star to continue my tertiary education at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. When I rejoined The Star after I graduated three years later, it was the newspaper’s first woman top editor Datuk Ng Poh Tip who interviewed me.
With her Masters degree in political science, she set new standards in the newspaper, demanding that journalists have better education and research abilities and not just be able to file stories. More women editors emerged by then, including Cheryl Dorall, who became Sunday Star editor in the 80s, the first woman to do so.
Fast forward 2015: The Star has changed. I have stopped counting the number of women editors and journalists in the company. In some cases, the men may think they are in charge but it’s actually the women who run the show, even if they refuse to admit it.
I have had the privilege of working under our first woman managing director Datin Linda Ngiam, who went on to become the first woman director of our media group. Both her roles have been records of sorts in the company’s history.
The Star Radio Group chief operating officer Kudsia Kahar, a well-known radio personality, is also a first, and our group’s Capital Radio remains the country’s only radio station dedicated to women, with huge listenership among professionals.
Of the over 1,500 staff in the company, over 40%, and for sure women, would play a bigger role in the years to come.
Our universities and colleges now comprise 60% to 70% of female student intake, and while some have expressed concern at the imbalance, I really do not see why a predominantly female ratio should be of concern.
Gender should not be an issue; what is more important should be the quality of the graduates our universities are producing. The Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) recently revealed that Malaysia has the highest number of women in the workforce – up to 40% – compared with other Asean countries. However, not everything in Malaysia is that rosy as the country reportedly has the lowest number of women occupying senior roles, at only 26%.
Grant Thornton said the data also showed that Malaysia was the third lowest globally to have women on the board of companies as chairman, chief executive officer, chief financial officer, executive and non-executive directors.
Malaysian employers must realise that gender diversity is good for business. Grant Thornton rightly pointed out that “it increases financial performance, enriches brand perception in the marketplace, improves problem-solving, enhances team and individual creativity, as well as boosts employee satisfaction and retention.”
In fact, racial diversity is also good for any company as it brings the best talent out, cutting across gender and race.
I am thankful to be born and living in Malaysia. I wouldn’t want to live in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia or some conservative society where women are regarded as inferior by misguided males, some of whom use religious doctrines to keep their power.
Such men with their inferiority complex seem to have forgotten the importance of their mothers, grandmothers and sisters in bringing them up.
Then there are those who continue to blame women for their sexual urges, often citing their dressing as being provocative. Some rapists blame the women and try to play the role of victim instead, as in the numerous cases in India, especially in the rural areas where they are sadly deprived of outlets to release their frustrations.
The reality is, even in Malaysia, rape perpetrators are usually known, or even related, to the victims. Many of these cases take place in rural areas and the victims are dressed in conservative clothing.
PAS-ruled Kelantan, despite its strict religious façade, consistently ranks top in the country with reported rape cases and other social woes. The Internet is filled with statistics on the problems in the state.
The International Women’s Day theme for this year is “Make It Happen”, and certainly most right-minded Malaysians believe in making it happen for all our sisters. I don’t have one but for all women, you are my sisters! We will make it happen!