For more than half of her career spanning 25 years, Raja Teh Maimunah has held C-suite roles in several banks and financial institutions in Malaysia. Her focus areas have been corporate and investment banking, Islamic finance and digital innovation. Currently, she is the managing director of wholesale banking for the AmBank Group.
Besides having worked with some of the major banks in the country, she has been an active member of Kumpulan Wang Persaraan, the government body that manages public services pension funds, where she serves on the Board Risk and Board Integrity Committees. She is also an advisor to the World Islamic Economic Forum Foundation on Islamic Banking and Finance. She is a Chartered Banker and a Chartered Professional in Islamic Finance (CPIF), and also holds a degree in law from University of East London that later conferred on her an honorary doctorate in law.
Having held several leadership roles in the banking industry, Raja Teh has been counted as one of the most influential women in Malaysia’s finance and banking industry. In 2017, she was named as Women Icon Malaysia at the Women Icons Summit & Awards. Lack of female role models in leadership roles has always concerned her. She speaks about this and other aspects of gender equity in this chat with Women Icons Network.
Raja Teh believes that women’s careers are often affected due to the societal perception about their domestic roles and responsibilities. While there is a gross underrepresentation of women in leadership positions across sectors, the situation can’t improve when employers are being reluctant to hire women keeping in mind their maternity leave and the possibility of a career break.
“Being able to find dependable and affordable child-care is not easy, particularly for young mothers. Often that would drive them to leaving the workforce to care for their children or not being able to pursue senior roles,” she elaborates.
Along with this, there are issues like persistent pay inequality and unequal medical benefits wherein a man’s coverage tends to extend to his dependents but a woman’s tends to cover herself only. All these issues lead to the growing inequity among genders at the workpiece, she believes.
When it comes to the willingness to improve the representation of women in the workforce, Raj Teh feels some companies are more serious than others. “Providing on-site child-care would be a great start. And providing equal maternity and paternity benefits would be another,” she says when asked about the immediate steps that can be taken towards this goal.
She recalls her own difficulties as a young mother, and how challenging it was to manage to care for a baby and balancing it with the responsibilities of being a young executive. She says she would often bring her daughter to work and put her in the cubicle. A creche facility, she feels, would have definitely made things much less stress free. She also supports flexible work hours to enable women to balance their domestic duties with their official ones.
However, she thinks that planning a long-term strategy to consciously develop more women leaders within organisations is the need of the hour. Raja Teh says she was never conscious or aware of the glass ceiling concept while navigating through her career. “I had always thought that opportunities are for all to seize, regardless of gender. Perhaps that had helped me in ploughing through,” she shares.
Women in Leadership Roles
Grooming women for taking up leadership roles in organisations must be included in a company’s culture, she thinks. This, she says, can be done through training and mentoring support for promising talents. Young women executives need to be provided room for growth. “Male leaders must provide equal opportunity for growth and development to the best person employee and not the ‘best man’ for the job,” asserts Raja Teh.
She also acknowledges that the pandemic has resulted in more women being expunged from the workforce than men. She believes this is because they are expected to step up to shoulder caregiving and housework in the absence of help.
This scenario should awaken companies to the need to support women with provisions like child-care at the workplace and a flexible work structure now that we know working remotely or from home can be just as effective. Besides, the corporate world needs to step up and commit to equal pay for the job regardless of gender, she says.