Talking about the monumental milestones of women in power – Australia and New Zealand elected their first women prime ministers – the latter (Jacinda Ardern) becoming the first-ever sitting prime minister to give birth while in office while her partner took up the full-time childcare role. Finland also created waves by appointing its youngest woman prime minister at just 34.
Malaysia also has its fair share of women who are redefining and influencing political and organisational structures. A political matriarch in the form of the much-loved deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has been a huge stride forward for women in a country where many are reluctant to enter politics. Significant others like Yeo Bee Yin, the Energy, Science, Technology, Environmental and Climate Change Minister who holds a Master's degree from Oxford University, and Hannah Yeoh, Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, are wonderful examples young women can look up to.
In the corporate scene, Datuk Shireen Ann Zaharah Muhiudeen was appointed as public interest director and non-executive Chairperson of Bursa Malaysia in March last year. As a former member of the International Finance Corporation (IFC)’s working group, Datuk Shireen also holds independent directorships in AMMB Holdings Bhd and FELDA, besides once being a member of the EU-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce & Industry Financial Services Committee. Tan Sri Dato' Seri Utama Tengku Maimun binti Tuan Mat, the Chief Justice of Malaysia, is the first woman to be appointed to the country's highest judicial office last year. Previously, she graced the role of Judge of the Court of Appeal and as a Judge of the Federal Court. Datuk Yasmin Mahmood, another formidable leader of the digital and technology sector, was appointed as Chairperson of Pos Malaysia, a large traditional Malaysian entity that is embarking on a shift in business model in the era of disruption. Datuk Yasmin was formerly CEO of Malaysia Digital Economy Corp and also the MD of Microsoft Malaysia.
Even social and environmental change is creating young women newsmakers, Greta Thunberg being a hugely inspirational personality. Others like Nobel awardees Nadiya Murad (who is fighting sexual slavery) and Malala Yousafzai (promoting girl’s education) are names that bring hope and opportunity for women all over the globe.
Thanks to a growing number of global businesses that are drawing up meaningful D&I agendas, women are becoming recognised for C-suite roles and defining philosophies of these institutions. Companies have also been quick to measure the positive impact that women bring to business and are forever open to harnessing their capabilities through flexibility, family-oriented benefits and redesigning the rigid corporate structure to look more women-appropriate.
The portrayal of women in the media is also undergoing a dramatic change - the stereotypical “housewife” being replaced by the “doting father” who is also committed to sharing household responsibilities. The emergence of more scandals in governments and corporations is calling for new perspectives and values among top leadership as well. Women leaders also practice unbiased hiring and performance evaluations, prioritising diversity and inclusion that are reflected in employees’ promotions and pay.