17 years ago after a group of senior female employees had dinner with Jack Welch, GE’s Women’s Network was born.
Corporations bandy the term women empowerment a fair bit, but do they merely pay lip-service to the idea of diversity, and equal opportunity in the workplace? The International Center for Research on Women puts it broadly, but hits the nail on the head when stressing that it is a woman’s right to achieve broader development goals such as economic growth, poverty reduction, health, education and welfare.
Well into the 21st century, it’s hard to believe that women in the workforce still experience lesser wages than men, lower chances of being re-hired after a career break, and a multitude of other challenges, including archaic stereotypes, when climbing the corporate ladder into the C-suite. According to the Harvard Business Review, 60% of women worked well past the birth of their second child. According to a McKinsey survey, on average, woman made up to 53% of entry-level employees where only 19% will make it into the Executive C-Suite.
The GE Women’s Network now exists for more than 100,000 members worldwide. The network, focused on advancement, career-broadening opportunities and leadership, mirrors GE’s commitment to workplace diversity, evolving it into a worldwide organization of over 150 Hubs in 43 countries, helping thousands of women through the sharing of experiences, best-practices, and specific expertise.
Closer to home
The assurance of workplace diversity runs through GE’s global network, and more importantly in an emerging economic super-continent and a culturally male-dominated region such as Asia. Certain measures have been taken to help assure working mothers receive customized schedules, health benefits such as fitness and medical centers, together with the freedom to work from home.
Across ASEAN, GE’s target is to ensure that 30% of the business is represented by women at various levels and fields.
At the GE’s Women’s Network Summit (left to right): Zatalini Zulkiply, Communications Manager, GE Malaysia; Sugunah Verumandy, Human Resource Director and GE’s Women’s Network Hub Leader, Malaysia; Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, Chairman of AirAsia X, Former Minister of International Trade and Industry; Mr. Harjeet Singh, Deputy Secretary General, Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development
Locally, GE Malaysia has also hosted events such as the “We Connect, Act and Inspire” summit in 2012, which provided a platform for discussions on women in leadership, and empowering them as agents of change. The event saw the participation of prominent women leaders as guest speakers such as AirAsia X chairman Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, Carrefour Malaysia marketing and communications director, as well as Kakiseni head, women’s rights activist, film producer, director and actress Low Ngai Yuen, and TV host, deejay, writer, film producer and director, model and activist, Asha Gill.
Inspiring women (left to right): Datuk Yvonne Chia, Sarah Lian, Margaret Court, Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood and Datuk Nicol David, panelists at the GE Women @ Work forum
This year GE presented the “Women @ Work” forum on the backdrop of the WTA BMW Malaysian Open 2014, emphasizing this year’s theme of ‘Strong is Beautiful’. The event saw a diverse group of successful women sharing stories of determination, passion and perseverance that inspired all in attendance.
The illustrious panel included individuals who have made an impact in their various industries, such as:
Minister Of Youth and Sports YB En Khairy Jamaluddin;
The first woman during the Open Era to win the singles Grand Slam, Margaret Court;
3-time World Number 1 in singles and a worldwide phenomenon, Venus Williams;
Tan Sri Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, President of MERCY Malaysia;
Malaysia’s own women’s squash legend and World Number 1, Datuk Nicol David;
North American, Asian entertainer and brand ambassador of Beverly Wilshire Medical Centre, Sarah Lian;
Editor in Chief of Marie Claire Malaysia, Mindy Teh;
Consultant Aesthetic Physician of Beverly Wilshire Medical Centre, Dr. Karen Po
Back in the office, GE Malaysia mirrors the network by providing leadership, mentoring, and career-broadening opportunities within the corporation. GE Malaysia ensures that their women employees are supported as they balance their roles inside and outside of the workplace and the company has extended maternity leave to three months, and encourages flexible working hours.
Stuart Dean, CEO of GE ASEAN comments, “Gender diversity ranks among the top priorities of some of the best global companies today but I must qualify this by emphasizing that women professionals are making their mark in the business world purely on merit. We have some of the best women talent in GE across the more than 130 locations in which we operate in.”
It is imperative for big corporations, like GE, to play its part, and lead the way – even more so now. It has never been more crucial for the corporate world to step up, and embrace diversity as part of their DNA, and not look at it as an item on the checklists for their brochures.
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Top Image: Hazel McCallion, Mayor, City of Mississauga, joined GE’s 5th Annual Women’s Network event and more than 200 GE Canada employees in Toronto to form a human pink ribbon to support breast cancer awareness month. These GE employees joined forces with their global GE colleagues in 25 locations around the world dedicating time to draw awareness to breast cancer. CNW Group/General Electric Canada Inc.