Inaugural Boardroom Brunch: Tackling Sustainability Together

March 26, 2017 11:11 pm 0 comments

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Islamic Arts Museum, Kuala Lumpur
26 March 2017

Let me begin with a classic quote from Sojourner Truth, born a slave and a woman, and became a popular spokesperson for abolition of slavery, fought for women’s rights and temperance amongst others. Her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech is known in several variants, because Sojourner Truth herself did not write it down and here is a quote which some of you may have heard before:

“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne five children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but the Lord heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”

The point I would like to make is simply this — at the work place women are as good as men, if not better. In fact there is now a standing joke amongst men wanting to claim “Men’s Day”.

2. Jests aside, in my own life the most prominent influences have been women. My mother was very influential in the forming of my life and character. And, of course I worked with Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz in MITI for 2 decades. When I was privileged to serve as the KSN, there were record number of women as KSUs and DGs in our team. In fact one of them is here today at the same panel. It’s a testament of her achievement and the environment that has enabled her progress. I like to believe that when I retired as KSN, there were a significant number of women in positions of influence in the Civil Service.

3. I would also like to make these following points:

3.1 Policies (whilst necessary) do not govern character and culture.

Our upbringing, our education and our moral compass will set our sights to a leadership that is colour and gender blind. Not policies and blueprints. I believe and acted while in the Service that I was ‘colour blind’ and am proud that as a team we were able to bring forth women leaders not simply by policies alone but more importantly by virtue of ability and track record. Tan Sri Dr Zeti’s track record speaks for itself. We must govern in reality and understand the makings of a leader. This does not just happen. It is a lifelong investment which we must take into account when speaking of a 30% target. We must understand the psyche’ and psychology of a society as well when drawing out these targets.

3.2 Target Setting versus creating Automated Environment

Though I know we are targeting 30% in Boardrooms, we must be cautious that the quota is not reduced to a tokenism. To me this would be sacrilege to the ability of women not only in Malaysia but also worldwide. The 30% must be ‘read in conjunction with’ (as they would say in a legal lingo) capacity and capabilities. When a target is set the human tendency is that we meet it at all cost and not address the core issues that would support the reaching of a target. You can akin this to profit targets for instance – – you set those targets with financial and non-financial KPIs. The non-financials must dive deep into not only training but training from the beds of our pre-school such that the system automatically develops women of calibre that make it to the corner offices and boardrooms.

3.3 Eco system

  • We need to ensure our ecosystem develops Board members and leaders. We must have programmes from pre-school all the way to tertiary education where there are subjects of leadership, management, ethics and governance to name a few.
  • Interventions through trainings etc., which we are seeing globally though commendable is not adequate. We have to have an ecosystem that generates leaders.

4. Shedding the victim mentality

Women themselves must rise beyond the victim mentality. They make society not by quota, but by participation, by their intellectual strength and on their own ontological terms.

Women as we all know have an inbuilt tenacity to overcome possibly greater emotional odds than men. Perhaps that’s the reason God blessed them with motherhood, and not men. But crux to this is women must take responsibility and not subject themselves to privileges and quotas. The women in this panel today made it on their terms. Whilst initiatives, policies and programmes helps societies get organised but we are human first before associating ourselves to a gender, race or religion. Thus it is incumbent upon us to take responsibility in drawing our paths of achievement.

Allow me to close off with another quote from Sojourne Truth where she said,

“ If women want any rights more than they have got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about them”

Thank you.

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