At this homegrown Sarawakian company, plans are underway to create 1,000 job opportunities to support the Government’s agenda for a more gender balanced and inclusive workforce, affirms ASTEEL Group's Tinah Jerome in an interview with Aditi Sharma Kalra. 

The Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) stated that in 2019, the labour force participation rate (LFPR) for women was still low at 55.6% in 2019 as compared to other developed countries such as Australia (72.5%) and Singapore (69.1%). The Gender Gap Index in the country for 2018 was recorded at 71.1%, a boost from 69.7% the year before, according to DOSM. However, the Malaysia Gender Gap Index (MGGI) dropped to 0.709, or 70.9% in 2019.

In response to this and as part of its five-year masterplan, ASTEEL Group, one of the biggest integrated steel mills in Malaysia, has pledged to create more job opportunities for women in the male-dominated steel industry by 2025 to drive diversity and inclusivity towards a more gender-balanced workforce. This includes giving equal opportunities to women to apply for senior management roles and under-represented jobs across the Group.

On this note, Human Resources Online spoke exclusively to Tinah Jerome, Director of Corporate Affairs, ASTEEL Group (pictured above), on ASTEEL’s human capital development plans towards creating a more gender-balanced workforce. Tinah is tasked with steering ASTEEL’s manufacturing operations towards smart manufacturing, which include aligning the leadership team and employees with the transformation.

Interview excerpts below:

Q Can you please tell us how ASTEEL is driving diversity and inclusivity in its workforce?

In line with the Malaysian Government’s aspirations of ensuring equal opportunities for all, diversity, equity, and inclusion has been at the forefront for many Malaysian companies over the years. As a homegrown Sarawakian company, diversity and inclusivity has always been the cornerstone and practice of our founders – it goes beyond gender, different ethnicities, culture, and creed.

Since the company’s inception, 25 years ago, both women and men are given equal opportunities and supported by the Management to excel in their career paths based on their individual merits and competencies regardless of the above mentioned. By doing so, we are able to maximise and capitalise on the different skill sets and increase overall productivity levels of the Group.

Diversity remains high up on our agenda and an integral part of our DNA — we are pleased to share that the ratio of our male to female employees is currently at 50:50.

However, we will not rest on our laurels and continue to diversify our talent pool. In line with our five-year masterplan, we aim to create 1,000 job opportunities to support the Government’s agenda to create a more gender balanced and inclusive workforce.

However, due to the nature of the steel industry and the types of tasks performed, traditionally, there has always been more men on the production floor compared to women. At ASTEEL, a balanced composition of men and women are at the management, administrative and operation levels. We are pleased to share some examples: the Head of our Logistics Unit is a young lady, who is performing very well with her tasks. Throughout the years, her competency and tenacity as a woman in managing a team which comprises mainly men in positions such as forklift drivers, lorry attendance etc. is truly admirable and her skills and capabilities are respected by her team and management.

Another example would be the Chairman of our Safety and Health committee, who is also a woman. Tasked with creating awareness of health and safety matters among employees, she spearheads the development of strategies to ensure that our work environment is always safe and healthy for our employees.

We also welcome female participation at the Board level as both genders may bring different viewpoints when it comes to operations and management ideas. Additionally, we also ensure that there is no discrimination or distinctions regarding salary and remuneration for both of male and female employees. In other words, we ensure that individuals’ salaries and bonuses are paid based on their job positions and achievements.

As a company that strongly believes in diversity and inclusivity, we are looking at the matters below to improve our operations:

  • Identify job positions or units that are less gender diverse;
  • Improve on our hiring strategies to increase gender diversity in units that are lacking, without ignoring potential or merit;
  • Improve on creating a healthy work environment and positive culture that enables both men and women to strengthen bonds and remain motivated to perform at a high level; and
  • Identify and set inclusive goals for each unit/department.

Q What are some human capital development initiatives to upskill women employees in ASTEEL?

ASTEEL Group believes in the continuous upskilling of our workforce across all genders, job roles and functions in the group, as part of our lifelong learning culture. While we may not have up-skilling programmes specifically targeted at female employees, we are ensuring that they are equipped with the skill sets that meet the demands of the industry and enhance their participation at upper management level. We ensure that both male and female employees are enrolled in the same upskilling programmes and are assessed based on their merits and capabilities.

We have also been taking proactive measures in succession planning, especially in leadership positions for business continuity and sustainability.

Q What are some of the benefits of having a more gender balanced workforce? 

Some of the benefits of a more gender-balanced workforce are:

  • Employers would benefit from views and perspective of both men and women over the same matters. Thus, this will help employers to make sound decisions, which would impact the organisation, the employees, and the communities/customers they serve positively.
  • All employees will feel that they are treated with dignity and respect. This not only creates a healthy work environment but also improves employee engagement and overall workforce performance.
  • By having a gender-diverse workforce, a company will be able to tap on a larger talent pool with greater access to skills and wider industry knowledge.
  • In addition, a diverse workforce will also enable a company to serve a diverse customer base.
  • Finally, gender diversity enables a company to attract and retain talented women and men which will enhance the company’s competitiveness.

Q What is ASTEEL’s human capital development target in line with your five-year Masterplan?

At the strategic level, we are committed to upskilling the leadership team of the 12 companies under the Group to lead, manage and bring the companies to the next level. To start, we are in the process of securing a collaboration with a local university to develop modules for our leadership development programme, which is targeted at selected managers and senior managers. These selected employees will be equipped with high-level skills required to be leaders of the companies under the Group, in preparation for their transition into their respective roles. The training will cover areas such as management, strategy, decision making, negotiation, HR, Sales, digitalisation, and much more.

At the functional level, we are addressing the competency gap by upskilling our executives, and supporting administration employees as well as our operators at the factory floors, including warehousing and logistics. As for our executives and administrative support employees, we are looking at closing the gap(s) to enable them to improve process and performance, and efficiency by leveraging on technology. For the operators, at the factory floors, their upskilling will be on technical competency through technical programmes.

On this, we are collaborating with an external party to re-visit our floor process to improve on our processes as well as to identify upskilling programmes or initiatives to make improvement possible. The same goes for our logistics team as some of their processes such as monitoring and tracking will be done in real-time. Warehouse management will also leverage on digitalisation. Through our digitalisation efforts, coupled with the upskilling of our workforce, we hope to increase productivity levels.

We are planning to be fully automated within the next five years as part of our smart manufacturing journey, which has started but was slowed down due to constraints caused by the pandemic.

In summary, ASTEEL Group is committed to its digital transformation and enhancing the capabilities of its workforce in order to have a pool of skilled and agile workforce. This is the reason we are aggressively working on upskilling our talent to prepare them for these roles. We aim to evolve into a data-driven organisation that thrives on data analytics to make better decisions for not only our business operations but also our production, machinery, and people — all of which will help us optimise our resources in value creation and co-creation of value for our stakeholders.

Q Personally, how do you address gender stereotypes? 

In my opinion, traditional gender roles and stereotypes have always had caused the division of labour between women and men in the workplace and in society at large.

However, I am pleased to know that many companies are being proactive in tackling the cultural barriers and labour market segregation with the changing times.

I think that it may take time for us as country to completely break away from social conditioning. I believe the best way is for both public and private institutions, as well as organisations, to educate people on the harmful effects of gender stereotyping. It is harmful when people limit our capabilities and our freedom to pursue professional careers and life decisions based on our gender.

At work, it is about shifting perceptions; this is where HR plays an integral role in inculcating a culture that promotes diversity and inclusivity. Companies can identify underrepresented jobs and fill these positions with both genders; equip the talent (men and women) with the skill sets that will set them up for success; and address, disapprove and penalise behaviours that prescribed to gender bias.

On a personal note, in addressing any issue including gender stereotyping, first of all, we need to have the ability and willingness to open our minds and hearts to listen and understand. Through understanding, and having an open and honest discussion, it will help us put our personal biases aside, and we would be able to discern and dismiss our fears and ignorance of issues that has led to gender stereotyping.

Photo / Provided (Tinah Jerome, Director of Corporate Affairs, ASTEEL Group)

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