At a gathering for National Women's Day, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak threw down the gauntlet to Malaysia's publicly traded companies challenging them to appoint more women to directorships.
"Don't give the excuse that we have no women. Yes, we do! Ask the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry for the list of women who can serve as directors," said Prime Minister who is also acting Women, Family and Community Development minister.Najib pointed out that there are already about 200 women trained by the Ministry's Women Directors' Programme to fill these top spots who will be ready to enter the positions by December.
There is no shortage of talented women. The ministry's NAM Institute for the Empowerment of Women Malaysia director Tan Sri Dr Rafiah Salim said about 400 candidates have registered with the Women Directors' Programme in hopes of being chosen.
Some of those women will get their chance next year to enter the programme as the new Budget has allocated RM50 million in order to train 500 more women in 2013.
The theme of this year's National Women's Day Event was aptly titled, "Women Ignite the New Economy" – even Najib could not have said it better. He admits the nation needs women, if it is to fulfill its Vision 2020 objectives to claim fully developed nation status.
Right now, women make up 65 per cent of the nation's university graduates but only 47.9 per cent of the labour force. The government hopes to correct that balance through a partnership with businesses and academic institutions.
"It is a loss when we spend a great deal on women, send them for higher education in universities, and then they stop working," says Najib.
The government knows it has to act fast. In three years, it expects 55 per cent of the nation's labour force will be women, according to Women, Family and Community Development Ministry's secretary-general Datuk Dr Noorul Ainur Mohd Nur.
To attract these women and keep them, the government is working with privately held companies to create a workplace that promotes flexible hours, working from home and more childcare facilities. It is also important to employ women in top jobs to motivate mid-level women to stay in their positions.
Najib said employers who build childcare centres would be given a double deduction on the allowance or subsidies provided to the employees and expenses for the maintenance of the centres. Already seventy-one childcare centres have been built at government agencies and twenty in the private sector for working mothers.
"We hope that these measures will enable more women to join the workforce," Najib noted.
Additionally, some of the Budget 2013 allocation for women would go towards two programmes: the Single Mothers Skills Incubator Programme (I-KIT) that teaches entrepreneurship skills to single mothers and the Get Malaysian Business Online programme that offers online training to 50,000 women running small entrepreneurial businesses.