Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Milestone

What would you do if some students find it difficult to cope with the learning of math and science in English?

What would you do if some students are unable to compete against their peers?

What would you do if too few students can pass university exams?


Those are important questions the leaders of this country have to deal with quite frequently. The solutions are quite straightforward. For the first question, the answer is to change the medium of instruction to Malay. As for the second and third questions, those are straightforward too—simply bring down the grading system so that more students can pass the exams.

I don't know what is it like in the government offices, but I know a bit about the situation in many private companies, especially the big ones—there are quite often too many bosses but very few leaders. Many of those who occupy the important positions are there either because of the number of years they've been working in that company, or because they're very good in being yes-men, or because of their racial background and who they're related to.

A very common scene in a big private company is that when something goes right, everybody would be fighting to claim credit for it; but when something goes wrong, everybody starts pointing fingers at each other. That is survival in the corporate world, I guess.

Now I happen to know that some women are very, very clever and creative. In fact, I dare say they are brilliant. But I say some—not many. For those few who are really good in their jobs, it makes a lot of sense to let them hold important positions; in fact decision-making positions. If they're really good in what they do, even better than men, I see no reason why they shouldn't be allowed to make use of their knowledge and skills. After all, that can only be good for the company.

But what if they can't perform as good as the men? What is the logical thing to do? Well, I don't know about other companies, but I would choose those who I think can perform the best for the company. If it happens that women can perform the best, then of course they will get the job. If not, then I'm afraid the men will get it. This is purely looking at things from the company's point of view—it has nothing to do with the genders, really. If only 5% or 10% of the women in the company can outperform the men, then those 5% and 10% shall get the job(s), and the rest shall go to the men, and vice versa.

That's why I think the recent announcement by the government of the policy to get women to hold 30% of decision-making posts in the private sector is an ill-perceived idea. I know that announcement had probably a lot to do with the impending general elections in Malaysia. So I can understand the need to lure the women voters. But still, I say it's an ill-perceived idea!

There is just no free ride in business. You either perform to get the job; or if you can't perform, then you won't get the job. Otherwise, we're gonna have too many excess baggage which becomes a burden; people who become liabilities rather than assets to the company.

If I were the policy-maker in the government, I wouldn't formulate a "30% women in decision-making posts". Instead, I would put more emphasis on the survival of the fittest. Which means if 90% of the women can outperform the men, then they should rightfully occupy the important positions. But if the opposite is the case, then 90% of the important positions should be occupied by the men.

I think the kind of "milestone" that Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil is so proud of is nothing to shout about, really. The idea is always to work hard to achieve the 30% if it means that much to you; not have that 30% thrown onto your lap because of some sort of ill-perceived policy by a government bent on winning the general elections.


10 comments:

almostclever said...

Would you consider pondering that the low numbers of women now does not have to do with their intellect or ability to do the job, but with institutional discrimination against women?

Would you consider pondering that there is easily 30% of women who are fully capable and able to do the job, but were never given the opportunity to do so?

Your assumption seems to be that there is not that large of a percentage of women who would be able to fully qualify and fill the position, therefore this goal is ridiculous because they will be taking in a lot of unqualified workers - I would like to see evidence of that if it is your assumption.

My position is that sexism in Malaysia is still too strong for 30% of women to be hired, and that this is a ploy for votes - as you said - therefore institutional discrimination against women will continue.

Cornelius said...

Sarah,

Would you believe it, when I was posting this article, I was thinking of you! Well, OK, let me try to answer you questions.

"Would you consider pondering that the low numbers of women now does not have to do with their intellect or ability to do the job, but with institutional discrimination against women?"

Yes, I would. In fact I’m convinced that the “low numbers of women [in decision-making posts] now” is due to the discrimination against women. Apart from that reason, however, I’m also convinced that there is a good case of lacking in their ability to do the job(s). For I simply refuse to believe that if a woman is really more competent than the man in making good decisions for the company, she would still be denied the post anyway because of her gender. At least I wouldn't deny her that post.

"Would you consider pondering that there is easily 30% of women who are fully capable and able to do the job, but were never given the opportunity to do so?"

Yes, I would. In fact I’m convinced that 30% of women (or even more than that) are fully capable to do the job(s), but were never given the opportunity to do so. But if that is true, then we must ask ourselves why are the big bosses reluctant to give them that opportunity?

to be continued shortly...

Cornelius said...

"Your assumption seems to be that there is not that large of a percentage of women who would be able to fully qualify and fill the position, therefore this goal is ridiculous because they will be taking in a lot of unqualified workers - I would like to see evidence of that if it is your assumption."

That is not my assumption at all. If you have been following my blog, you would know by now that I see two types of “qualifications”, i.e. the paper qualification, and the practical qualification. That women are generally more qualified paper-wise, I think not many people can deny. Today, about two thirds of local university students are made up of girls and only a third boys. That has been the case for some years now. It follows, therefore, that it is only logical that women in general are more qualified paper-wise. In terms of practical qualification, I’m not so sure, and I don’t intend to speculate the number in terms of percentages.

At any rate, that is not the subject matter of this post. It may well be proven that women can very easily fill up more than 30% of the decision-making posts, but the point I’m trying to make here is the government’s making that a policy, i.e. something mandatory. I disagree with that, because I think if women are really more capable than men for some decision-making jobs, sooner or later they will find their way to places where they rightfully belong.

I can tell you that two thirds of our employees are made up of women and only a third men. From my own experience, women employees in general apply for the most number of sick leave, and “emergency” leave because they have to deal with family matters. In fact, if a woman employee does not apply for any sick leave or emergency leave throughout a calendar year, there is something seriously wrong with her.

But would I still employ women? Of course I would. The same requirements apply. If having weighted all the positives and negatives between a man and a woman, and the woman still emerges on top, I would without doubt hire the woman. I’m convinced all of my partners would adopt the same attitude when hiring someone for a decision-making post in our company.

"My position is that sexism in Malaysia is still too strong for 30% of women to be hired [for decision-making posts], and that this is a ploy for votes - as you said - therefore institutional discrimination against women will continue."

Although I don't have any evidence to support my belief, I'm inclined to agree with you. However, if the situation is any better in the western countries, I'm convinced that that is so because of legislations compelling companies to hire women, not so much because there's lesser discrimination against women there.

almostclever said...

"I'm convinced that that is so because of legislations compelling companies to hire women, not so much because there's lesser discrimination against women there."

Agreed.

For some reason "quotas" get a bad rap, but this idea Malaysia is pondering makes sense to me. It is affirmative action. In universities in America and in employment there is affirmative action, meaning if two students or employees are equal in all ways except skin color or gender, the disadvantaged person (historically discriminated against) will get accepted to the school or hired for the job.

Some people claim affirmative action means unqualified people are getting positions they don't deserve, the research does not back this assumption up.

Sometimes discrimination is very subtle in a manager's decision making process. If a man and a woman are both equally qualified, the man may be chosen over the woman simply because the employer does not need to worry about him getting pregnant. This is discrimination.

almostclever said...

My Dad was president of a small business for many many years, and when I married my husband my Dad's advice (from a white man to a man of color) about getting a good job was to apply at big companies that have good rules about affirmative action. My Dad himself admitted that he hires people who are the most like him, because they are the one's he feels comfortable around and that he feels he can relate to. My Dad is a white man and every single one of his employees were white men of the same background. He openly admits that he hires people he relates to the most (which is based on race, class and gender similarities). It wasn't until after I married a man of a different race that he started to think about how hard it must be for my husband to get a job at a company where managers are all white men from a very different background. Affirmative Action laws are in place so these types of things can be avoided, because sometimes we don't even realize we are discriminating, therefore having rules we must follow when hiring, takes some of that discrimination out of the process.

I think the idea of having quotas in Malaysia has a good and a bad side. The good side is that employers will be forced NOT to discriminate in hiring, the bad side is that everyone will look at these women as "a quota" and either resent them or have personal prejudice because they will automatically believe they are not qualified for the job.

In the US in universities where a large percentage of the student body is Asian (Berkley in California is a good example) white students complain that the Asians are there because of affirmative action, not because they are smart and qualified to be there. When white people become less than 80% of a given population (in this case at a university) we begin to see more debate and criticism of affirmative action as whites feel their privilege is being threatened. We also see a a rise in hate crimes.

I think having 30% women in decision making positions (if actually followed through with) will have a huge backlash of prejudice from men. Just my theory :) I support it though, change is painful and it is not easy. I think it is the right thing to do, though.

Cornelius said...

"Some people claim affirmative action means unqualified people are getting positions they don't deserve, the research does not back this assumption up."

I'm not sure which research you're referring to and how it was conducted. I'm not sure of the soundness of its conclusion.

What we see in Malaysia though is that affirmative action policies can lead to inefficiency; wastage. A good example is our beloved New Economic Policy. Originally intended to be in force for a limited period only, but it has been running up to now. The idea is to allow the Bumiputeras special leeways in the hope that they're able to "catch up" with the non-Bumis. The result of that policy is very interesting. We have Bumis sitting as "sleeping partners" in big companies to satisfy the requirements to secure government jobs. We've had Bumis securing jobs from the governments, and then sell the contracts to non-Bumis for quick profits. We've had more deserving non-Bumi students denied scholarships against Bumis who managed less impressive exam results, thus resulting in the loss of brilliant minds (though I read with interest that the Malaysian government is now trying to lure these people home from foreign countries). Too much wastage.

I'm imagining women making up the 30% composition of the decision makers in big companies, but actually they're not allowed to decide. They're there just because there's a policy to achieve that 30%. Paying people strictly for satisfying quota is wastage to me, I don't care what the research says.

When a portion of the population gets special deals, there will be opportunities for at least some people to abuse that policy; and then inevitably there will be wastages.

So I say let these brilliant women earn their way to the decision-making jobs. When and if they achieved the 30% in the end, I'm sure that achievement will be sweeter without the help of the policy by the government.

almostclever said...

I'm just referring to research in the states, and the worldview I am coming from that makes me a supporter of affirmative action (and what it is meant to uphold - and does uphold for disadvantaged peoples).

You are switching subjects a bit to a completely separate issue but I am willing to go there with you. All I can say about that wastage is simply "I agree with you." As far as getting 30% of women into decision making positions, I wouldn't call that wastage - but I would say Malaysia could focus more on discrimination policies in companies and in gov't in order to level the playing field through means other than quotas. I think if that happened though, it would mean the government has to address it's own racist political formations and institutional discrimination. In other words, their only resort can be quotas because they can't address the real issue of discrimination without having to rework their own political parties. But even this talk of quotas is just politicians doing what they do best, right? Lying.

Throughout college I was a big supporter of quotas in the states, but Malaysia's affirmative action is quite different from where I live so I can't pretend I know what I'm talking about and make the assumption that what is good in the US is good in Malaysia.

I think affirmative action in Malaysia is different because it is "affirmative action for the Malays." It seems to me Malaysia needs affirmative action based on class and needs to stop looking at race. I wonder where gender fits in that equation?

If there is hardcore discrimination against women reaching top positions, even the smartest will rarely get to those positions. If we don't use quotas how do we remedy this? We can't just say "hard work" because the issue is more complex than that.

Cornelius said...

I wish to clarify that I am not against hiring women into decision-making positions. If the shoes fit, then why not? But I am against setting a quota of how many of them should be in those positions.

As far as I am concerned, the recent announcement by the Prime Minister is a ploy to win women's votes. Anyone can search the net for the Malaysian government's cabinet lineup. See if you can find women occuping anywhere close to 30% of the important seats in the cabinet. Maybe at best they'll play second fiddle as deputy ministers and the likes. If the PM is really honest about women's participation, how about he leads by example - put more women in his cabinet lineup, then perhaps I would find it a little easier to believe him.

You are right, if we let the free market decide, there will be instances where even a truly deserving woman would not get hired. But I believe many of them would, but only if they are truly capable!

Many non-bumis have their legs and hands chopped off. They are disadvantaged, in fact a kind of discrimination too, in so many ways. Yet how do you explain the fact that they're still ahead after more than 5 decades? Yes, many of them won't get hired. But on the other hand, many of them are very successful people without the help of quotas. So I say if they're truly capable, they will find their ways anyway.

almostclever said...

Won't that just mean Malay males will always be in power then? Don't we want to change that to something more inclusive for the races and women?

I have a blog post request... Care to write your thoughts on BERSIH and the atmosphere being created around it?

Cornelius said...

Of course it is ideal to include other races in the administration. In fact, the government would love to say that other races are in the administration team. In Malaysia, non Malays can never be the Prime Minister. Never. Well, OK, unless if they change the law. But then again, life is not always a bed of roses. We can only dream the impossible dream.

I'm beginning to think that you're into the business of mind-reading, Sarah, as I have already planned to post a bit about the BERSIH thingy. Just haven't had the time. Will do so soon.