The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the day-to-day routine of the average Malaysian, with a “new normal” now centred around remote working, work-from-home setups for much of the workforce. This has also meant plotting the way through uncharted waters for many HR professionals — but the core principles that centre around maintaining an inclusive, progressive workplace for employees remain as important as ever.
According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, just over 55 percent of Malaysian women currently participate in the workforce (as of February 2021), but there are still a number of issues to overcome with regards to gender equality in the workplace. In a 2020 Vase AI survey conducted in collaboration with Digi-X, 42 percent of respondents believed a gender pay gap exists in Malaysia. Interestingly, the number one reason put forward by respondents for this inequality was that a particular gender is “assumed not to be able to carry out certain tasks”.
For HR professionals, it’s important that a positive workplace environment is fostered, one that allows employees of all cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, and genders to thrive to the best of their abilities. With that in mind, we reached out to some of the team here at altHR (as well as close associates) to help with a quick list of comments that should never be addressed to female co-workers.
According to Rachel, comments that stereotype individuals have no place in a professional environment. This includes correspondence between co-workers outside physical offices — which is particularly relevant in light of pandemic-enforced remote working arrangements. While some of these statements may not necessarily come from a place of malice, there should be a zero tolerance policy for gender stereotyping in the workplace.
Gender stereotypes aren’t simply offensive, but categorically inaccurate. This can undermine the efforts and capabilities of female employees in the workplace; one of the reasons for this, Olivia explains, is because “men don’t take women seriously”. So, rule number one: stay away from gender stereotypes.
Nicknames, or pet names, can be a nice term of endearment between close family and friends. But it’s a fine line between appropriate names and… monikers that you should never use to address female co-workers. “If it’s coming from a dude, and he’s calling me names like ‘babe’, I’d consider that as inappropriate,” Olivia warns. And yes, this applies to outside the workplace, too.
Sometimes, it’s not a specific comment or statement that’s at fault — it’s the “entire approach, through conversations, interactions”, Nat explains. But as a rule of thumb, you should avoid comments to female employees on dressing, makeup, or even someone’s appearance in the wrong context.
Again, it’s a fine margin of error here, so if you aren’t sure if you should voice a particular opinion on someone’s appearance — best to keep it to yourself.
The same applies to queries if a female co-worker has a boyfriend, or if they’re married. Stay away from questions that may infringe upon a colleague’s privacy, particularly if a co-worker is new to the organisation, or if they prefer to keep their private life… well, private.
Those who raise these questions to female colleagues might simply be unaware of the discomfort caused, according to Janet. Regardless, this can lead to some uncomfortable situations for female employees in particular, so it’s best to avoid questions about someone’s relationship status, and other personal details, in the workplace.
Unless you’re talking about acts of chivalry on your personal time, you should never undermine the capabilities of your female co-workers with archaic statements such as the above. When we spoke about this to Bob, he put these statements down to the upbringing of individuals; suffice it to say, it’s best to leave these types of comments — and mindsets — in the past, where they belong.
The very same Vase AI survey found that 74 percent of respondents believe that “improved valuation” of both genders can resolve the gender wage gap in Malaysia — and of course, inter-office communications play a big part in that.
While penalties and other disciplinary measures can (and should) be taken against employees who make inappropriate statements against female co-workers, preventive measures such as mandatory training at regular intervals should be implemented. Additionally, victims of gender discrimination should also have access to a platform to voice their complaints, with the option of anonymity.
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