Female employees see wider income gap in Malaysia

More needs to be done to address women’s participation in the workforce to boost their pay and address economic challenges.
By: | December 28, 2023

Working women in Malaysia are seeing a widening pay gap between themselves and their male counterparts in the workplace.

This is the claim that the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) has issued, with several factors contributing to this phenomenon, said Dhanya Shekhar, WAO’s Advocacy Leader. The factors, she said, included cultural expectations designating women as primary caregivers and assumptions that they are less assertive than men in negotiating salaries.

Addressing these challenges, Shekhar explained, requires a comprehensive approach, encompassing legal reforms, changing cultural expectations, and promoting fair negotiation practices within the workforce.

According to the recently released Malaysian Gender Gap Index for 2022, the gender pay gap has widened significantly from 2020, when women receive just RM66.67 (US$14.39) in wages and salaries for every RM100 (US$21.58) men receive.

In 2022, the estimated annual salary for women stood at RM 42,080 (US$9,079.73) compared with RM63,117(US$13,618.95) for men.

Critics like Simraatraj Kaur, Bait Al Amanah Social Policy and Human Rights Head, have pointed the finger at the COVID-19 pandemic for widening the pay gap between 2021 and 2022, primarily due to increased care responsibilities, remote work challenges and disrupted career progression. Another critic, All Women’s Action Society (Awam), highlighted the importance of relearning and retraining themselves in soft skills for women, especially if they were in white-collar work.

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Responses from the different parties have suggested wider implementation of flexible working hour arrangements, implementing pay equity legislation to enforce equal pay for equal work, and addressing women’s salary inequalities as a solution to getting women into the workforce. The consequences of not addressing these issues in Malaysia’s workforce, they added, would see profound consequences for the overall economy such as lower purchasing power, slower economic growth, blocked access to affordable healthcare upon retirement, and lack of sufficient funds for daily necessities, reported Free Malaysia Today.