According to professional network LinkedIn’s Opportunity Index 2021, nine out of 10 Malaysians said the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted job opportunities and career prospects.
The survey paints a mixed economic outlook, with about 6 out of 10 Malaysians reporting an array of effects such as pay cuts, a demanding job search and reduced working hours. Only 1 in 5 (21%) expect an uptick in the economy in the next six months, while just 19% foresee any improvement in their financial situation during the same period.
A few positive aspects include some Malaysians found ways to forge new opportunities — including starting their own business (23%), providing safety support items such as sanitisers and masks to their communities (33%), with women in the vanguard.
Commenting on the findings, Feon Ang, vice president, Learning and Talent Solutions, APAC, LinkedIn, said the report, an annual composite measure, pointed to a disproportionate impact on efforts to address gender balance in the workplace. For example, 45% of women reporting that they received fewer opportunities than their male counterparts.
Regionally, the data showed that 41% of APAC women feel they get fewer career development opportunities than men. This is more prevalent in China (44%), Malaysia (45%), Japan (47%) and Singapore (49%). In India, over 4 in 5 (85%) women said they have missed out on a raise, promotion, or work offer because of their gender.
Conducted between 26 and 31 January 2021 by independent market research firm GfK, the online study saw 10,000 respondents between 18 and 65 across Asia Pacific (Australia, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, and Singapore).
Drive to equality
In her blog, Ang further explored COVID-19’s role in accelerating the transition to new ways of working and exacerbating certain gaps in the drive to gender balance.
Some shifts are that:
- 78% of Malaysians have worked from home, and 34% of women feel satisfied with current work from home arrangements, compared to 31% of men.
- While working from home posed challenges, which resulted in poor productivity (51 %), an overwhelming majority were worried about Covid-19 affecting their health if they returned to an office setting environment.
- As a result, half were willing to work from home 1-2 times a week and one-third expressed the desire to work from home 3-4 times a week.
Ang said that organisations had an increased responsibility to encourage better work-life balance in an era of remote working. Such a flexible approach may enable more women to re-enter the workforce.
Although many women in Malaysia benefit from remote working, they face other hurdles to opportunities such as lack of time (65%), concerns about their financial status (64%), confidence issues and fear of failure (61%) — and a tight job market (60%).
She says that women are determined to work hard despite such challenges, but they desire equal access to opportunities as men. Indeed, women see these two as among the most critical aspects (80% and 72% respectively) to moving ahead in life.
Another study finding is that 4 in 10 women feel they are paid less than men in their profession. Ang said, “our research suggests that this mindset may stem from broader societal perceptions around gender”. Indeed, 58% think that gender equality is a significant indicator of a fair society.
Future of work
Increasing the number of women in leadership roles could foster a shift in mindsets. “As it currently stands, our survey shows that on average, in any organisation in APAC, only 39% of their workforce comprises women. Looking at leadership positions, the representation is even lower — only 30% of senior-level positions (senior manager and above) are held by women. This percentage is even lower in Japan and China.”
Ang says that although the 2021 Opportunity Index study shows 4 in 10 Malaysians feel that gender equality has improved in the workplace compared to the previous generation, there is much room for improvement.
Earlier promising signs concerning women in other areas included a December 2017 LinkedIn report on cybersecurity talent in the country, which showed that 21% of Malaysia’s cybersecurity workforce are women — compared to 11% in the U.S.
However, Malaysia’s overall situation — of both the male and female workforce — was and is that ‘the funnel’ of new talent is too small and not yet enough to sustain and support the growing demand of a digital nation.
LinkedIn’s study suggests that Malaysians are showing a growing awareness of the importance of aligning themselves with the demands of the digital era by actively seeking mentors (28%), building or nurturing network (23%), and mentoring others (21%) among efforts to forge fresh opportunities.
For Malaysia to continue its transformation into a high-income digital economy, the cultivation of digital era talent and skills is possibly the most crucial component of the plan. McKinsey’s insight demonstrates the link between talent and enhanced transformation; acquiring top talent can yield double-digit investment savings by accelerating the transformation process by even 20-30%.
In summarising, Ang says: “About a year on since COVID-19 hit us, many continue to struggle from job loss and job instability. Yet, it is heartening to see that people have also turned their focus towards helping the community.” She adds that the catalytic power of community is something LinkedIn is also promulgating in its network as a contribution to moving forward to recovery and addressing the gender imbalance.
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