Empowering women in Corporate Malaysia

It has long been recognised that women are key towards the development of the male-dominated corporate world, particularly in Malaysia.

Over the years, data suggests that equal opportunities for women in the business world will significantly benefit countries worldwide, in terms of a sizeable boost to the countries’ gross domestic products (GDPs).

Back in 2015, research institute McKinsey Global considered a ‘full-potential’ scenario in which women participate in the economy identically to men, and found that it would add up to US$28 trillion, or 26 per cent, to annual global GDP in 2025 compared with a business-as-usual scenario.

“This impact is roughly equivalent to the size of the combined US and Chinese economies today,” it said.

Fast forward to 2018, McKinsey Global Insitute later stated in its ‘The Power Of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality In Asia Pacific’ overview that by advancing women’s equality, the economies of Asia Pacific could boost their collective GDP by US$4.5 trillion a year by 2025, a 12 per cent increase over business-as-usual GDP.

“This additional GDP would be equivalent to adding an economy the combined size of Germany and Austria each year,” the report read. “Advancing women’s equality not only is important from a moral and social perspective, but also delivers a considerable growth dividend.”

Recognising Malaysia’s efforts

As such, the Women Empowerment Year 2018 national initiative is timely for Malaysia, especially given the recent cases of gender inequality practices at the workplace in other countries which all came under scrutiny.

In announcing Budget 2018 measures last October, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak unveiled an increase in mandatory maternity leave from 60 days to 90 days in private sector like what has been implemented by the government sector.

Najib, who also announced that 2018 was the Women Empowerment Year, called on government-linked companies, government-linked investment companies and statutory bodies to allocate 30 per cent of positions in their board of directors to women by the end of 2018.

The Prime Minister also announced a RM20 million allocation for training and entrepreneurship programmes tailored for women through the Entrepreneur Programme under the MyWin Academy.

He also suggested tax exemption for the first year of their salary after a two-year hiatus to encourage women to return to the work force.

The tax exemption could be claimed for the 2018 to 2020 period.

Earlier this year, during the launch of a logo for the Women Empowerment Year, Najib recognised that Malaysia still has ways to go in spite of a good track record for progressing the role and rights of women.

“Other countries that have sidelined the participation of women have now realised that they will not progress should they continue to do so. As such these countries are playing a catch-up game in an effort to boost their economic output.

“The expansion of women’s role in the country and society is in line with the current globalisation and the Industrial Revolution (IR) 4.0 which promotes women’s role in ensuring prosperity and progress in the country through economic participation.

“This is something that Malaysia has already acted upon.”

Pushing towards this goal

Minister Of Women, Family And Community Development Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim highlighted on International Women’s Day this year that in line with the National Women Policy as well in conjunction with TMW18, the government has taken the necessary efforts, to provide funding and access for women to be entrepreneurs and to be self-sustaining economically.

Rohani further highlighted that to realise the 30 per cent target of women in decision making at corporate sectors, Najib has urged for more women to be on the board of directors in government-linked companies (GLCs) and government-linked investment companies (GLICs).

“The Prime Minister’s seriousness in this matter came loud and clear with the ‘name and shame’ publication of public listed companies that did not have women directors on their board last year.

“I am pleased to share with you in an announcement by the Bursa Malaysia last January, only seven out of the top 100 companies have yet to name women to their board of directors.

“Progress is being made – there is an increase in the percentage of women as a member of the board of directors in top 100 listed companies from 16.6 per cent in 2016 to 19.2 per cent in 2017.

“This increase is a positive indicator that women are given the trust to be key players as decision makers in the corporate sector,” she asserted.

Private sector making efforts

Many firms in Malaysia are joining the bandwagon. Take Standard Chartered as an example, who recently pledged to have 30 per cent female representation in senior leadership by 2020.

In a statement last week, the bank said it had launched a Global Women’s Network and is committed to fair policies and processes, including a fair pay charter, in order to achieve that intention.

“The bank is committed to a culture whereby all colleagues feel valued and can contribute their best.

“Fair pay should be understood to mean that remuneration is consistent across the board, that is, the absence of discrimination in how wages are calculated.

“Our vision is to create a culture of inclusion, whereby talents and individuality are valued and respected, and where everyone is given the opportunity to excel and develop,” said Standard Chartered Bank Malaysia managing director and chief executive officer Abrar Anwar.

Women for years have demonstrated that they are more than capable of not just running a company, but also of being entrepreneurs and making their mark in a male-dominated start-up world.

BizHive Weekly takes a look at women who are at the fore of e-commerce and how they have set their respective businesses apart from others in this industry.

How women entrepreneurs can overcome gender bias

While many start-ups claim to have a social impact dimension, many women entrepreneurs hold back from sharing the social goals of their ventures because they fear that they will not be taken as seriously as men.

Instead, female professionals attempt to avert this “gender penalty” by asserting typically male characteristics associated with business success. Yet in the male-dominated world of venture capital, such strategies can backfire on women as they conflict with feminine stereotypes.

New research from INSEAD, the business school for the world, and Wharton, however, finds that women can overcome this ‘double-bind’. It turns out that playing up their social mission can help them mitigate gender biases they are up against.

All entrepreneurs spend a significant amount of time seeking resources, including financial backing. However, external evaluators, such as venture capitalists, often perceive female-led ventures to be less viable than male-led ventures.

This is because women do not generally fit the stereotype of entrepreneurs as aggressive and ambitious risk-takers, traits that society tends to associate with the male gender.

“Social expectations of what it means to be an entrepreneur are at odds with the traditional image of women as caring and warm individuals. However, women entrepreneurs who emphasise the social impact of their venture may be better evaluated precisely as they meet gendered expectations of warmth and care,” said Matthew Lee, Assistant Professor of Strategy at INSEAD.

Mitigating the gender penalty

In a forthcoming paper to be published in Organisation Science, Gender Bias, Social Impact Framing, and Evaluation of Entrepreneurial Ventures, Lee together with Laura Huang, Assistant Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship at Wharton University, discussed the results of two studies they carried out on the link between gender bias, social impact framing and the evaluation of entrepreneurial ventures.

The first study, based on real-life venture evaluations, showed that on average, female-led ventures were perceived as less viable than male-led ones. However, women entrepreneurs who mentioned the social mission of their venture managed to avoid this gender penalty.

Interestingly, business plan evaluators did not penalise male-led ventures that were framed in terms of their proposed social impact. “It made no difference in their case,” said Lee.

In their second study, the authors controlled all variables of a business plan that was presented to evaluators. A fictional venture was pitched, via an audio-recording, using one of two scripts. Both scripts discussed the commercial objectives of the business, but only one also emphasised the social mission. Each version was recorded by either a man or a woman.

The ‘commercial only’ pitch was viewed more positively when narrated by the man. However, when the script also included a social mission, evaluations were equally likely to be positive, regardless of whether it was pitched by a man or a woman.

The authors were able to show that the ‘warmer’ persona associated with the social mission was the key reason why evaluators had no reservations about the female pitch.

Building an online platform with Dropee

As the CEO and co-founder of Dropee, Lennise Ng is no stranger to the concept of venturing into the unknown in search for success.

Dropee is a business to business (B2B) marketplace for businesses to buy and sell in bulk with a mission to empower businesses growth, particularly the small and medium entreprises (SMEs), by providing access to affordable quality products nationwide.

According to its website, retailers are able to have immediate access to thousands of wholesale products — all fulfilled by suppliers that Dropee’s team has personally vetted and verified.

“The idea came about after a few pivots and tweaks from our business model and system development,” Ng said to the BizHive Weekly in an interview recently.

“We initially focused on creating a software to help suppliers to handle their internal operational processes before implementing the marketplace element after speaking to hundreds of SMEs.

“What made us shift our focus and direct our technology to the SMEs is because of the fragmented distribution channels across cities, towns, and states that affect the way SMEs procure goods.

“We believe technology can solve this and our platform has the capabilities to group SMEs and simplify distribution, which ultimately help these SMEs to have access to more affordable quality products.”

Dropee currently has hundreds of businesses across Klang Valley and Kuala Lumpur area that use its platform to source for products.

Dropee’s focuses mainly on dry fast moving consumer goods, with the selection ranging from beverages to office stationery goods.

For future entreprenuers, especially women, interested in venturing into the e-commerce or digital business industry in Malaysia, Ng has revealed that there are a few things to consider when setting up an e-commerce business.

The first step for budding entrepreneurs would be to identify their target market, whereby they will need to ask themselves whose pain points they are ultimately solving.

When setting up an e-commerce business, entrepreneurs will also need to consider their solution or unfair advantage factor in that they need to identify what product and-or solution they are providing that makes them unique.

Aside from the above, Ng stressed that key partners play a major role towards success.

“I am a firm believer of partnerships is the way to go to growth hack any business. Understand your ecosystem and industry very well, then find your partners.

“Your partners should serve the same target customers and provide value-added service or products when paired with your business offerings.”

On the direction of the e-commerce field in Malaysia, Ng opined that it is definitely growing here.

“In Dropee, we’re fortunate to work closely with the brand owners such as Nestle, Redbull and others and whilst we understood that sales-wise in percentage is extremely low, at one to five per cent of their total sales, the growth in e-commerce aspect is definitely growing,” she said.

“We strongly believe that companies shouldn’t exclude the fact that eventually both consumers and businesses will start operating and transacting purely online.

“We believe that the next generation will eventually take over the businesses and will heavily implement technology and e-commerce in throughout the businesses simply because they all grew up with tech.”

Goh leading the way for IT solutions

Founded in 2003, IT Comp is a well-known IT retailer and corporate and project solutions provider in Malaysia.

Since its inception, IT Comp has strengthened its position as the IT expert in multiple segments and has over the years, been able to stand strong in this competitive market with its unique offerings.

Sharon Goh, CEO and founder of IT Comp, who as been in the tech industry for decades, explained that 2014 was the year IT Comp first started venturing into e-commerce.

“What brought us from an offline brick-and-mortar player to an online player was simply because we started to feel the impact on our offline store after Lazada came into Malaysia.

“That gave us a wake up call that we must start looking into online and no matter how, we must start to join the party. In short, since we can’t beat them, we join them,” she told BizHive Weekly.

Goh viewed e-commerce as ‘the fastest and most booming trend’ in Malaysia — one which is also growing very fast throughout the entire Asean region.

In Goh’s personal opinion, there are always pros and cons whenever there is a new trend or changes in the market and industry, as is the case with offline and online businesses.

That said, she believed that brick-and-mortar business owners have to start accepting the fact that the trend of consumers shopping online is here to stay and will likely continue growing at an even faster pace in the coming years.

“Like it or not, the only way to overcome the loss of market shares from offline (stores) is to blend offline and online (businesses) together.

“That’s the only way to stay competent and to survive in the e-commerce era, especially with competition coming in from overseas such as Taobao.”

With the launch of the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) last year, Goh believed that this will create more opportunity for businesses in Malaysia to export their products to all over the world.

However, she also pointed out this also means that local businesses are also facing competition from global competitors entering into the Malaysia market.

“Therefore, for local traders who have already moved their business towards online, stay put with it,” she advised, adding that businesses should also keep up in this fast-paced environment.

Goh also advised that for those who have yet to venture into e-commerce to start picking up on this trend.

“Blending the business from online to offline (O2O) is the key factor to surviving for brick-and-mortar businesses.”

Goh shared that IT Comp is still mainly selling IT related products, ranging from hardware to accessories.

Additionally, IT Comp is now selling across all major online platforms in Malaysia. These include Lazada, 11street, Shopee, Youbeli, ITcompstore.com, IT Comp App and Maxis.

“Starting from 2017, we have even started venturing into cross border trade through e-commerce via platforms such as Alibaba.com, eRomman, eBay and even Lazada Singapore.

“We are also starting to set our foot into the food and beverages (segment) to export Malaysia-made product to the global market,” Goh enthused.

On what is next for IT Comp, Goh highlighted that the company will be mainly focusing on cross border trade for its business.

That said, IT Comp will still keep its base and ground in Malaysia as the company still wants to put its customers in Malaysia as the top priority.

“As for (more) physical stores, for the time being, there will not be any expansion plans for us due to the high maintenance cost,” she said.

“As for East Malaysia, it’s still a magical place for us which we wanted to create miracle on the sales growth, we are still working very hard with the logistic partner, hopefully to cater a better and much more competitive rate so that customers from East Malaysia can also enjoy great offers from us.”

IT Comp’s main customer market is still from West Malaysia, while less than 10 per cent of its online buyers come from Sabah and Sarawak.

Goh said that the reason behind this gap between West and East Malaysia is mainly due to logistic costs.

As for her advice to future women entrepreneurs who are keen on venturing into e-commerce, Goh stresses on the key word ‘persistency’.

Entrepreneurship programmes provide aid for women

There are currently a wide range of entrepreneurship programmes in Malaysia which have been designed specifically to assist women on their entrepreneurial journeys.

The government is forward in encouraging women to venture into entrepreneurship through programmes such as BizWanita-i, Women Entrepreneurship Incubator (I-KeuNita), DanaNITA and Single Mothers Entrepreneurship Incubator (I-KIT).

Najib went on to say that the government also helped Bumiputera women to succeed in entrepreneurship through programmes such as the Perbadanan Usahawan Nasional Bhd (PUNB) Apprentice Graduate Programme and TemanNita Financing Scheme.

He added that for women who wished to venture into agricultural entrepreneurship, Federal Agriculture Marketing Authority (FAMA) Graduate Entrepreneur Development Programme and Graduate Commercial Agriculture Entrepreneur Scheme has also been provided.

More recently, MaGIC launched the ‘Pre-Accelerator Bootcamp: Female Founders Edition’ to help ‘womenpreneurs’ validate their business ideas, develop a working prototype and create a focused go-to-market strategy.

The bootcamp is a two-week programme to empower the women of Malaysia to transform their business ideas into investment-ready solutions through mentorship and capacity building initiatives while catalysing creativity and innovation.

“MaGIC seeks to empower women within the entrepreneur ecosystem and provide them with a platform to turn their business ideas into reality, MaGIC CEO Ashran Ghazi said in a statement

“We welcome womenpreneurs from Malaysia and Southeast Asia to apply to join Female Founders and take the next step in their upcoming and exciting entrepreneurship journey.”

According to MaGIC, selected startups will undergo a specially curated syllabus to provide them with basic startup fundamentals as well as expose them to go-to-market strategies, product development, and business modeling, among others.

“The bootcamp will culminate with a Demo Day where the top 15 startups will have the opportunity to pitch to a lineup of investors,Ó MaGIC explained on its website.

“Winners will receive free tenancy at the MaGIC Co-Working space for three months, post-bootcamp mentoring for three months and a company incorporation package.”