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Human Resource Development and Diversity Management
Chapter · January 2012
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Aminah Ahmad
Saodah Wok
Universiti Putra Malaysia
International Islamic University Malaysia
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Human Resource
and Diversity
Aminah Ahmad and Saodah Wok (2011)
Work force diversity is a primary concern for countries not only in the west but also in
Asia. Workforce diversity refers to the co-existence of employees with different
backgrounds within the organization. Diversity includes factors such as gender, age,
ethnicity and physical ability. Many countries including Malaysia face the challenge of a
rapidly changing demography of the workforce including the increase of women workers,
the ageing workforce, the increase in foreign workers and the inclusion of disabled
workers. Since the subject of workforce diversity has been a problem, there is a need to
investigate the extent to which the diversity exist and the implications of such
demographic changes on human resource development and the strategies to manage the
workforce diversity effectively.
This chapter discusses the diverse problems arising from the significant demographic
transition unfolding within society and its impact in particular on human resource
development practitioners in Malaysia. In the first section this chapter outlines the basic
trends in the structure of the population and the labour force over time. It proceeds to
discuss the increase in the proportion of females in the workforce and older people in the
population and workforce as well as foreign workers and concerns regarding disabled
workers. In the second section it portrays the situation of male and female workers, the
older workers and disabled workers and the problems faced by these categories of
workers. In the third section the chapter suggested various diversity management
strategies to assist human resource development practitioners in handling gender, older
worker, foreign worker and disabled worker issues. The authors conclude with a
summary of the implications of the discussion for policy initiatives at organizational and
national levels.
Gender and the Workforce
The overall trend in the labour force participation by gender shows that the proportion of
employed males and females in the labour force, in Malaysia increased from 94.8% in
1990 to 96.7% in 2008 while the proportion in the unemployment category has dcreased
from 5.1 to 3.3% (Table 1). As Malaysia moves towards industrialization and with
greater access to education the participation of women in the labour force steadily
increases (Aminah Ahmad, 2009). The female intake into public institutions of higher
learning expanded rapidly from 45.7% in 1990 to 64.8 % in 2010 (Ministry of Education,
Malaysia, 2010).
Table 6.1 : Labour Force Participation, Malaysia, 1990, 2000, 2008
Labour Force
Labour Force Participation Rate (%)
Source: Department of Statistics, Malaysia (1991, 2001, 2009)
The participation of women, including married women, in the labour force in Malaysia
continued to increase from 45.8% in 1990 to 47.5% in 2008 (Table 1). However, the
impact of the economic downturn in 1997 has resulted in a decrease in the labour force
participation rate with the female rate declining to 44.6% in 1998 (Department of
Statistics, Malaysia, 2000a) which later increased to 47.5% in 2008 (Department of
Statistics, Malaysia, 2009). Although there is a reduction of women’s participation in the
labour market, the percentage of married working women (62.8%) exceeded those who
were never married (37.2%) in 2008 (Department of Statistics, Malaysia, 2009) and was
greater compared with the percentage (61.8%) in 1995 (Department of Statistics,
Malaysia, 1999) (Table 2). This implies that there tend to be a trend towards a substantial
transition from the traditional single earner to the dual-earner households.
Table 6.2: Percentage of Labour Force by Gender and Marital Status, Malaysia, 1995, 2001,
Never Married
Never Married
Source: Department of Statistics, Malaysia (2009)
Overall, throughout the world, there seems to be an increasing trend in the female labour
force as compared to male (Table 6.3). For example, in Malaysia, which has been
categorized as a medium human development country by the World Bank, the female
labour force participation rate of was relatively lower than the high human development
countries like the United States, Canada, Sweeden and Switzerland (Table 6.3).
With the changing demographics and the increase in dual-earner households, employees
are increasingly occupying both work and family roles simultaneously and they have to
deal with job-related demands that place limits on the performance of family role.
Investigations into their well-being focus on multiple roles and the ways in which they
manage the responsibilities associated with them. The responsibilities include not only
childcare but also eldercare. With responsibilities for multiple roles ranging from
childcare and eldercare to work, employees are more likely to experience interrole or
work-family conflict involving incompatible demands (Aminah, 2007).
Table 6.3: Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) in Selected Countries by Gender
LFPR Male (%)
LFPR Female (%)
United Kingdom
United States
Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Database on Labour Force
Statistics (2004; 2009)
With the influx of women in the workforce and an increase in dual-career families
whereby both male and female employees engage in multiple roles at home and in the
workplace. With responsibilities for multiple roles and without effective family-friendly
programs employees are more likely to experience interrole or work-family conflict
involving incompatible demands. Researchers have documented the experience of workfamily conflict among employed women and men (Aminah, 2007; Livingston & Judge,
2008). This can lead to negative effects including high turnover and absenteeism, reduced
job commitment (Thompson & Prottas, 2005) and job performance (Aminah & Maznah,
2007; Karatepe & Kilic, 2009), increased emotional exhaustion (Aminah, 2010;
Innstrand, Langballe, Espnes, Falkum & Aasland, 2008), job dissatisfaction (Noryati,
Aminah, Tengku Aizan & Azahari, 2010; Darrat, Amyx, & Bennett, 2010) as well as job
stress (Aminah & Zoharah Omar, 2010; Kreiner, 2006).
Employees may leave the organisation if they find that the organisation is unable to meet
their family needs. Organisations incur great loss when employees, especially those who
are high performing, leave the organisation. According to Garino and Martin (2005),
organizations suffer the loss of job-specific skills and disruption in production, and incur
the costs of hiring and training new workers when employees leave the organisation. This
is because when turnover occurs organisations need to find and thereafter train new
workers. Sometimes, organisations face difficulty finding replacements especially in tight
labour markets, and this will hamper the efficient operation of the organisation.
The rise of women to management positions, particularly upper-level executive and
policy-making positions, has been slow. It appears as if an invisible, but impenetrable
boundary prevents them from advancing to senior management levels. The barrier has
been described as the “glass ceiling”. The term refers to subtle attitudes and prejudices
that block women and minorities from upward mobility, particularly into management
jobs (Werner & DeSimone, 2009). In Malaysia, although the proportion of women
employed as professionals, technicians and associate professionals had increased to
between 40-45% in 2008, there is still a need to improve the status of women in
employment since there were only 24% of women legislators, senior officials and
managers in 2008 (Department of Statistics, 2009). Hoobler, Wayne and Lemmon (2009)
suggested that promotions to higher positions were associated with the element of
masculinity which relates to stereotypes of women’s lack of fit for both organization and
job. In Malaysia, 30% of women participation is deemed as crucial in breaking the glass
ceiling which had been hindering women with potential and qualification from holding
posts at various decision-making levels (The Malaysian Insider, October 14, 2009). The
Malaysian government has launched a series of programmes to develop 4,000 women
entrepreneurs by the year 2012 (The Star Online, July 21, 2010). While The Nut Graph,
in its report of September 26, 2008, said that Malaysian women remain politically
marginalized. Despite being educated and contributing significantly to the economy, the
percentage of women representatives in the House of Representatives was 10.4% in 1999,
and only increased to 10.8% after the 2008 general election.
Sexual harassment is form of discrimination that occurs most often against women in the
workplace (Boland 2002). There many forms of sexual harassment, from unwanted jokes
and comments, to unwanted sexual propositions and touching, to offers of job rewards in
exchange for sexual favors. In their study, Mohd Nasir, Chee and Bee (2007) found that
the main contributors to unwanted sexual attention and to sexual coercion were women’s
perception of sexist attitudes and the behaviours of male co-workers as well as an
unprofessional work atmosphere. Their study also found that the more sexually
provocative a woman worker dressed in the workplace, the more likely she would be
harassed. Sexual harassment can occur even when there is no tangible job detriment such
as a shift to a less desirable job or the denial of a promotion. Some employees choose to
endure this kind of treatment for a variety of reasons, including the need for the job,
feeling powerless to do anything about it, or uncertainty as to a perpetrator’s intent.
However, the impact of this can be devastating. Some employees suffer serious
psychological and emotional trauma that may affect their ability to work effectively
(Werner & Desimone, 2009). In their study conducted in 2002, All women Action
Society (AWAM) and Women Development Collective (WDC) found that 35% of the
respondents in Malaysia had experience one or more forms of sexual harassment. To
ensure a harassment-free workplace, the Ministry of Human Affairs in Malaysia has
prepared and issued a Code of Practice on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual
Harassment in the Workplace in 1999, containing in-house guidelines. Other than that,
legal action can be taken under other provisions in Penal Code, Employment Act 1955
and Industrial Relations Act 1967 (Women’s Aid Organisation, 2011). In 2010, the
government tabled a bill in parliament proposing amendments to the Employment Act to
see legal recognition given to sexual harassment prevention (The Star Online, July 21,
The Ageing Workforce
“Older workers” is a subjective term. This is because it can be looked at from two
perspectives, namely, person-based age measures and contact-based age measures. The
first perspective is related to the age of the individual that may influence work outcomes
either directly or indirectly. This perspective reflects the perception on health, appearance
and/or energy, as a function of biological and chronological age. The second perspective
relates to social and interpersonal age, that is, relating to perception of others in
comparison to work group members (Peeters & Emmerik, 2008), a stereotypical belief
about the older workers.
The older population is growing at a considerably faster rate than that of the world’s total
population. In absolute terms, according to the United Nations (2005) the number of
older persons has tripled over the last 50 years and will more than triple again over the
next 50 years. In relative terms, the percentage of older persons is projected to more than
double worldwide over the next half century. The young-old balance is shifting
throughout the world. In the more developed regions, the proportion of older persons
already exceeds that of children. In the less developed regions, age-distribution changes
have been slow but accelerate over the next 50 years. Currently, the median age in the
more developed regions is more than 13 years higher than in the less developed regions
and almost 20 years higher than in the least developed countries.
In Malaysia, with the improvement in the living standards and consciousness of health
care, there is an increase in the life expectancy of the population. The life expectancy
trend showed an increase from 68.8 years in 1990 to 71 years in 2009 for men. Similarly,
for women, there was an increase from 73.4 years in 1990 to 76.0 years in 2009 (Table
4). With the increase in life expectancy, the Malaysian population structure changed
resulting in an increase in the elder population aged 60 and above with 34.8% from 1990
to 2000, and 33.1% for the following eight years from 2000 to 2008. In 2008, the elder
population reached nearly 1.9 million (Table 6.5).
Table6. 4: Life Expectancy at Birth by Gender, Malaysia, 1995 – 2009
Source: Department of Statistics, Malaysia (2001).
United Nations Statistics Division (2010.
Table 6 5: Population by Age Group in Malaysia (‘ 000), 1990, 2000, 2008
15 – 24
25 – 29
30 – 34
35 – 39
40 – 44
45 – 49
50 – 54
55 – 59
 60
15 - 64
3, 518.0
1, 559.6
1, 335.1
1, 099.5
1, 077.2
4, 454.2
1, 800.2
1, 705.0
1, 487.5
1, 168.5
1, 451.7
Source: Department of Statistics, Malaysia, 1991, 2001, 2009
In assessing the demands of families to provide support for their oldest-old members, the
parent support ratio is commonly used. Because people are living longer and thus are
more likely to experience multiple chronic diseases, more and more adults are expected
to face the need for the very old and sometimes frail relatives. An indicator of this trend
is found in the parent support ratio, which shows the number of persons aged 85 years or
over in relation to those between 50 and 64 years. According the United Nations (2005),
at the global level, there were fewer than 2 persons over 85 per hundred persons 50-64 in
1950. In 2000, this ratio had more than doubled to reach 4 per hundred, and by 2050 it is
projected nearly to triple.
Like in other countries throughout the world, the Malaysian workforce is aging steadily.
According to the United States Census Bureau (2002), Malaysia’s population aged 50
years old and older accounted for 13.2% in 2000, and this is expected to increase to
22.9% in 2030 and 29.7% in 2050. According to the Department of Statistic Malaysia
(2007), the proportion of the Malaysian population aged 60 and older has increased from
5.2 per cent in 1970 to 6.3 per cent in 2000, and has been projected to be 9.9 per cent in
2020. However, the proportions of employed older workers aged 60 and older has been
decreasing since 1999 (Rabieyah & Hajar, 2003). As of 2000, 320000 older workers
(3.7%) constitute the total workforce of the population. Financial need is the driving
force for them to continue working to earn a decent living for themselves. However, a
fraction of the older workers continue to contribute to the organizations for selfachievement and fulfillment. This is because they are able to contribute to the
organization and their contribution is still needed for the betterment of the organization
and for the smooth transferring of responsibilities to their incumbent. As such, there is a
need for the older workers to be retrained and upgraded through lifelong learning. This is
to boost the confidence of the older workers as in most cases their confidence declines
with age (The New Straits Times, January 16, 2008).
Chan et al. (2010) has conducted a research on Malaysian older workers aged 55-75 years
old pertaining to the future of Malaysian older employees in relation to their utilization of
their employee provident fund (EPF). They found that the EPF contributors withdraw
their money in lump-sum. Therefore, it is advice that the government encourages them to
invest their money appropriately for maintaining their subsistence.
Aging becomes an important issue for human resource development. This is because at
the age of 50, workers are making decisions concerning either to continue working or
going for a retirement. This decision has an impact on human resource, social benefits
and productivity, both at the organizational level and societal level. Normally, they have
plans for their future and the organizations must be prepared to accommodate for the lost
of early retirement among the employees (Huuhtamen, 1996).
As mentioned earlier, there is an increase in the propotion of older people throughout the
world due to rising life expectancy. Many countries in Europe, especially in Scandinavian
countries and Germany, have developed state supported integrated policies towards older
workers. In Europe and North America, older workers are becoming a substantial part of
the workforce. There is an increase in the number of workers belonging to the higher age
group (Irmarinen, 2006; Vaupel & Loicinger, 2006; Kroll, 2003). This is because the
older workers are more proactive and thus, retain their career opportunities (Veldhoven &
Dorenbosch, 2008). In addition, the older workers have huge experience to share with the
new employees and colleagues.
There are mixed perceptions pertaining to maintaining older employees. The positive
perspective of retaining the older employees is that they are reliable loyal and dependable
(Steinberg et al., 1994). Paloniemi (2006) found that employees value their work
experience as their source of competence which is mainly developed through learning at
workplace, specifically through social participation and teamwork. At the same time, the
older workers are able to share their knowledge and competency (Slagter, 2007). On top
of that, the older workers tend to have affective commitment that relates to intention to
remain with the organization (Stassen & Schlosser, 2007), provided there is a conducive
development climate. The older workers tend to possess more know-how, higher working
morale, and are aware of quality requirement (Grund, 2007).
However, older employees with previous competency face faced challenges at workplace
(Kroll, 2003). Such challenges are ICT skills (Koning, 2006), health problems and
demand of work. However, in Malaysia, there is an improvement in the health care
provided, not only to the public, but also to the retirees by giving them special rate at the
government hospital and clinics. This will cater for the changing lifestyle habits and
aging resulting in chronic health problems requiring costly treatment over a standard
period of time. Therefore, the aging problem in Malaysia is a significant landscape of the
Malaysian population. The two meaningful benefits for the aging workers are the
healthcare benefits and the retirement benefits. With these benefits more experience and
knowledgeable, aged workers can be retained.
Stassen & Templer (2005) identified in Canada, the willingness of organisations to train
employees to adapt to workplace requirements. However, a small number of
organizations are willing to train the older employees for organizational effectiveness.
Therefore, employees aged over 55 years old will less likely to participate in training and
sometimes they are not given the chance to do so. They are more likely to receive on the
job training only (Newton, 2006). There are human resource costs in maintaining aged
workforce (Brooke, 2003; Remery et al., 2001), due to higher cost of absenteeism and
work injuries. Therefore, the organizations have to take care of the well-being of the
older workers pertaining to their cognitive, physical and mental changes that tend to
deteriorate as they age (Peeters & Emmerik, 2008). Older employees need a higher
recovery rate when they face problems for them to be able remain on the job (Kiss,
Meeter, Braeckman, 2008).
Depending on life’s circumstances, older workers might make the decision to remain in,
retire from, or return to periods of part-time, full-time, or seasonal or holiday work (Stein,
Rocco & Goldernetz, 2000). Many older workers who reach retirement age do not
completely withdraw from the labor force; instead, they switch from career job to other
types of work. This is common as they need to maintain their lifestyle and their nature of
time spent. However, the nature of job that they occupy their time with is in line with
their age and health status (Hedge, Borman, & Lannlein, 2006). These work choice
pattern will challenge adult educators and HRD practitioners and scholars to develop
training, career development, and organizational development strategies appropriate to a
third stage of working life.
Many organizations attempt to make them retire early. The retiring age for many
countries varies. For example, in US the retiring age is 62 years old, Singapore 62 years
old despite the fact that 6.1per cent of the population was age 65 years and older
(Singapore National Printers, 2000), Japan, China, Philippines, and Indonesia at each 60
years old, UK at 65 years old, Scandinavia at 67 years old, India at 58 years old, and
Malaysia at 58 years old for the public sector and 55 years old for the private sector
(Sunday Star, September 2, 2007) The government may extend the retirement age up to
60 years old, informed the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk
Johari Baharum, when winding up the debate on the Pensions Bill (Amendment) 2008
(NST online, July 11, 2008).
Foreign Workers
Migration is common feature in most developed and developing countries, at national and
international level. The movement of people who are in search of work resulting from
wanting to escape from oppression and poverty is ongoing to accommodate for the need
for a better lifestyle changes. In the United Kingdom, Dench et al. (2006) found that
migrants were largely fully employed while they are still studying. They are hired as low
skilled workers at low pay sectors such as agriculture, hotel and catering. This situation
makes the opportunity for the local to work as part-time is reduced. Therefore, there is a
need to protect labor standard and rights for all workers, on one hand while on other
hand, there is a need to restrict or limit the flow of immigrant workers into the labor
market in order to protect the position of the locally employed and potential job seekers.
Most immigrants depend on social networks and agents for job recruitment and
placement. McGovern (2007) highlights the role of the institutions and government
policy in shaping the labor market. Based on a study in the United Kingdom there is
clear potential for a dual system to exist where migrant workers are treated differently in
terms of recruitment, training and deployment (Morgan and Finniear, 2009).
Forde and MacKenzie (2009) confirmed that in order to maintain a competitive
advantage, based on low level costs and substitutability of workers, companies are
willing to retain migrant workers with strong work ethics and high commitment
regardless of minimal payment. The migrant workers are willing to accept low wages and
poor employment conditions, as in the industrial, construction and agriculture sector.
According to The Federation of Employers Association (2006), Malaysia hosts a large
number of foreign workers in the region. The Ministry of Human Resources in 2008
reported that 20 per cent of the workforce was foreigners. About half of 252600 vacant
positions are filled with foreign workers every year (Utusan Malaysia, October 21, 2008).
This means that in 2008 out of 11.3 million workers in Malaysia, 2.2 million were from
foreign countries. The presence of foreign workers is due to rapid economic growth,
industrialization policy, and liberal policy of hiring foreign workers (Chew, 1997).
According to the New Straits Times (2008), in 2006, foreign workers have contributed to
the gross domestic product (GDP) by 11.1 per cent. It was reported that in 2006, there
were 1,215,036 workers from Indonesia, Nepal (200,220), India (139,716), Myanmar
(92,020), Vietnam (85,835), Bangladesh (58,878), the Philippines (22,080), Pakistan
(15,071), Thailand (7,282), Cambodia (6,637), Sri Lanka (5,076), and from other
countries (2,262). Former Human Resources Minister, Datuk Seri Fong Chan Onn
(Bernama, August 11, 2009) estimated that there would be more than 5 million foreign
workers in Malaysia by 2010. This is due to a large number of monthly applications to
the Home Affairs Ministry seeking permission to employ more foreign workers. The
number of expatriates who are largely professional and highly skilled workers is rather
small. It is estimated that such group accounts for 3 per cent of the foreign workers in the
country (Ministry of Finance Malaysia, 2006). Majority of them are employed in the
manufacturing, petroleum, construction, health, education, and ICT related industrious.
These high skills professional are an asset to the nation with their invaluable role in
enhancing national productivity and competitiveness. They bring with them the
knowledge, skills and experience to enrich the Malaysian labor force. Yet, HRD
programmes are still necessary because they can improve the foreign workers
performance by providing them context specific T&D programmes such as cross-cultural
training adjustment.
The participation of foreign workers in employment has increased from less than half a
million in 1999 to more than two million in 2008 which is greater than the population of
Indian citizens, the third largest ethnic group in this country. With the implementation of
various development projects, coupled with the reduction in fertility rate and the late
marrying age, the number of foreign workers is expected to further increase. The majority
of these workers are from Indonesia (53%) and Bangladesh (15%) in 2008. A substantial
proportion (35%) of the workers are in the manufacturing, 16% in the plantation, 15% in
the construction and 14% in the domestic services sectors in 2008 (Ministry of Home
Affairs, 2010).
Shukran (2009) claimed that the presence of foreign workers in Malaysia has
strengthened Malaysian workforce and their presence, too, has contributed to Malaysian
economic development. Nonetheless, reliance on foreign workforce has negative
consequences to Malaysian economy, security and politics. In terms of economy, the
negative implication is that there is monetary drain whereby their income is being siphon
out to the original country (Pang, 1997). A total of RM17.2 billion was remitted in 2007
while within the first six months of 2006 they remitted a total of RM9.12 billion to their
respective country. In addition, Malaysian government is losing revenue due to the entry
of illegal foreign workers in terms of import duties because they are associated with
smuggling of goods from other countries. In terms of safety and security, crime is on the
rise with the influx of the foreign workers. They create not only social problems but also
fear of being the victim of criminal activities such as murder, armed robbery, rape, and
snatches. Not to say that there are cases of runaway, elope and marriage to local citizens.
Between year 1985 to 1991, foreigners accounted for 1.5 per cent of all crimes committed
in Malaysia. In addition, Malaysia has to bear the cost of maintaining camps for the
illegal at over RM10 million per year, cost for deportation at RM50 per Indonesian illegal
by boat and RM1200 per person to Bangladesh by air (Pang, 1997). For 1999 alone
Malaysian government had spent RM3.5 million to deport them by air.
The presence of foreign workers has some implications for the political situations of
Malaysia. Besides being a threat to security, open conflict and hostility between
foreigners and locals, their presence have affected the political stability. In addition, the
arrest of the illegal and the punishment upon them have loosened diplomatic ties between
the governments concerned. The Malaysia government has planned strategies to eradicate
foreign workers (Utusan Malaysia, October 21, 2008; The Star, August 11, 2006). The
strategies are:
a. Sending home at least 200,000 foreign workers by 2009 in order to give more
jobs opportunities for Malaysia citizens (CNN, January 20, 2008). The plan is to
reduce the number to 1.8 million by 2009 and further reduce it to 1.5 million, a
reduction of another 300,000 by the year 2015.
b. Stopping the renewal of work permits for unskilled workers after five years, but
skilled workers are allowed to work for up to 10 years.
c. Imposing regulations that make employers provide better management of the
foreign workforce in areas such as their recruitment and remuneration.
d. Regulating the intake of the foreign workforce by issuing permits for job sectors
which are really in need of foreign workers.
e. Attracting more locals to join the workforce such as females and senior citizens to
join certain work sectors (Utusan Malaysia, October 21, 2008).
f. Forming a mechanism to identify highly demanded skills in the industries, meant
to design strategies to train the locals to be equipped with the skills (Utusan
Malaysia, October 21, 2008).
g. Helping small and medium industries (SMI) in handling, machinery and
automation so that they do not depend on foreign workers.
h. Enforcing the concept of self-service in the service sector such as in petrol kiosks
and restaurants so that the services do not rely on foreign workers. The
government may consider waving certain taxes so that the business will adopt this
i. Attracting locals from the rural areas to work in the agricultural sector, such as
plantations by providing basic infrastructure, medical services, education,
affordable housing, and care centers.
All the above strategies have implications for developing appropriate HRD policies, and
for designing relevant interventions for effective utilization of local workforce, which
would reduce dependency on foreign manpower and attract as well as retain highly
skilled foreign talent in achieving the goals of Vision 2020.
Disabled Employees
Disability means physical or mental impairment that substantially needs one or more of
the major life activities of such individual; the record of such impairment; or being
regarded as having such an impairment (Business World, July 27, 2007). The term
“disabled persons” is defined as “any person unable to ensure by himself or herself,
wholly or partly, the necessities of a normal individual and/or social life as the result of a
deficiency, either congenital or not, in his or her physical or mental capabilities (Merican,
1981). This include individuals who are unable to perform major life activities including
caring for oneself, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, or learning. They were
either disabled since birth, during the process of their life, temporarily disabled over a
specific time or those who may overcome their disability with the help of specific device
(Nelson & Kliener 2001). These people face major barriers to employment, including
employment policies and practices, employer’s awareness and attitudes towards the
Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and workplace barrier.
The Star Online (May 7, 2008) reported that there were 220,000 disabled persons
registered with the Social Welfare Department, with only 581 of them working in the
public service and fewer than 5,000 in the private sector in Malaysia. Zulfikri (2003),
Chelvi (2007), and Butler (2007) highlighted employer’s negative attitude and perception
towards the disabled on the ground of the disabilities. The disabled persons themselves,
on the other hand, have the feelings of incompetence. According to the president of the
Association of Women with Disabilities Malaysia (PEWAKUM), many do not have the
courage or confidence to come out, and face barriers in terms of inaccessible environment
or they lack employment opportunities (The Star Online, March 25, 2011).according to
the Society for the Blind Malaysia, Employment and Computer Development Chairman,
around 50% of disabled persons left their jobs within six months (The Star Online, May
7, 2008). The inability of the disabled people to compete in the labor market is the result
of work limitations mainly raised from disability related impairments and social barriers
that limit their employment opportunity. Scott and Baun (1992) confirmed the difficulty
in gaining employment among the disabled persons. They believed that the disabled
persons have been unappreciated, discriminated and are at the disadvantage in obtaining
job opportunities. They found that the disabled employees, especially women, had
negative experience at workplace such as harassment, a demanding and hazardous
workplace, and job insecurity. Thus, the disabled women in their study had lower job
satisfaction and poor psychological health.
Out of 260000 disabled populations in Malaysia in 2006, 197519 persons with any form
of disability have registered with the Department of Social Welfare in Malaysia. The
country has about 1% of the population with disability, with 95, 435 registered with the
appropriate authorities and only 3870 of them have paid employment. This means that
95% of the disabled persons are still unemployed (Ministry of Human Resource, 2008).
The disabled are still struggling to obtain their basic rights in all areas of life, especially
employment. According to Abdul Rahman (2007), approximately 4% of those registered
were employed. In addition, Razak (2007) estimated that from 100 work applicants from
the disabled group, only three are considered qualified for the job. As of September 2006,
only 325 disabled workers are hired in the public sector as skilled and unskilled
professionals and non-professionals. These disabled are the physically impaired; vision
impaired (blind), and hearing (deaf). The private sector is a better employer for the
disabled where 6691 disabled workers are hired.
There was about 9000 registered
disabled persons and less than 500 vision impaired (blind) were accepted to work in the
public and the private sector (Berita Harian Online, 2008). This implies that only 5.5% of
disabled persons were hired. The disabled persons do want equal opportunities to decent
job and enforcement of legislation to better protect their rights (The Sun Online,
December 3, 2007). Being the minority underprivileged group, A Malaysian study
reported that the disabled are often overlooked by employers for employment even
though they may have abilities and skills, as well as other meaningful attributes (Salleh,
Abdullah & Buang, 2001) because they are perceived as incapable to contribute
positively in a demanding and challenging workplace.
According to Dibben et al. (2001) disabled people can be at a disadvantage in relation to
organizational policies, practices, and attitudes. Employers fear of cost incurred,
additional supervision, productivity lost and being stuck with a substandard employee
(Peck & Kirkbride, 2001). Such fear influences hiring decision process. Therefore, the
disabled candidates must be well equipped with the required educational background,
training, and/or experience. There are many larger companies which have accommodated
disabled employees which smaller companies have avoided doing this. This is because
additional accommodation and renovation require proper planning and extra budget. Only
bigger companies can afford to bear the expenses (Bruyere, Erickson & Vanlooy, 2006).
If the disabled person are hired, the next barrier is the requirement for reasonable
adjustment/accommodation (Granger & Kleiner, 2002), provided there is a minimal
money allocation needed for such adjustment. Studies by Kliener (2001) found that the
average cost to accommodate a disabled person is US$200. Among the adjustments and
extra facilities and services provided for the disabled employees are parking lots for
disabled employees, ramps, lift modification, toilets, etc. The accommodations made
have to comply with the American Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which became
effective in 1992. Hammond & Kleiner (2005) found that public schools in the US have
taken efforts to comply with the requirement necessary for the disabled teachers.
In the US, the disabled person are mainly concentrated in the non-standard forms of
employment such as independent contract staff, part-time, and temporary employment,
that generally provide low wages and few benefits (Jones, 2008). However, the
employing organizations are thought to have exhibited the corporate social responsibility
role, despite their discrimination towards the disabled employees. The organizations
might be using the employment of people with disabilities in a subtle way to promote
their corporate image (Dibben et al., 2002). Disabled workers normally have value-added
skills and the organizations are required to employ a certain percentage of the disabled
persons but there is a lack of awareness in this issue. Therefore, there is a need to liberate
the disabled persons from the “handicraft mentality”. This is because in the Philippines,
specifically, Asian Development Bank reported that disability is one of the seven causes
of extreme poverty in the nation (Business World, July 27, 2007). However, many
employers are unclear about the provisions in the law. This makes them worried and
unsure of hiring the disabled employees, thinking that there will be liability encountered
by the organizations (South China Morning Post, June 26, 2007). Furthermore, there have
been debates on setting up a minimum wage for disabled workers but such debates are
not conclusive. In order to reduce the gap between disabled persons and the normal, there
must be an increase in the employment rate of the disabled persons, given equal
opportunity to be hired, in order to help them gain economic security and to be fully
independent and competitive based on their knowledge, skills and commitment.
In the Western world, there has been a high unemployment rate of people with
disabilities (Bricout & Bentley, 2002). In addition, Sirvastava and Chamberlain (2005)
found that low confidence level and low self-esteem on the part of the disabled persons
contribute to their less employment rate. They, in turn, rated to have higher level of
dissatisfaction than those normal employees (Uppal, 2005). The reasons might be due to
less support from all sectors and workplace challenges (Olsen, 2008). There have been
some incidences that the disabled employees are being discriminated at the workplace
and they often faced physical violence and aggression, work unfairly criticized,
humiliated and ridiculed and ill-treated psychologically (The Guardian, November 27,
2008). Thus, such treatment, to a certain extent, deters people with disabilities from
assessing and remaining in employment. However, the disabled employees, once they get
the job, tend to protect themselves in term of professionalism, commitment, and loyalty.
They tend to be very obliging and pleasant to their co-workers and customers. They are
more likely to have a high level of satisfaction with their supervisors and their co-workers
(McAfee & McNaughton, 1997).
Most countries have developed their intervention programmes to help disabled persons to
have equal opportunities to be employed in the labor market. However, according to
Barnes and Mercer (2005), only a small proportion of disabled people unemployed in
professional and managerial occupations. They are mostly found in semi-skill and
unskilled occupations, routine clerical and personal service work. This further limits their
positive participation towards contributing to the growth of the national development.
This is because some companies are reluctant to employ the disabled (Khor, 2002) and
they fear extra costs incurred and additional risks to be absorbed in accommodating the
disabled (Butler, 2007). Sirvastava and Chamberlain (2005) found that employers in UK
are unresponsive to the need of workers, specifically with negative attitudes to disability
employees. However, other companies might see and able to tap the potential of the
disabled as being loyal and productive (Khor, 2002); thus their dedication contributes to
the organization productivity. As such, it can be appropriately said that the disabled
workers are an asset to the organization if they are managed considerably and with care.
They have their basic right to equal job opportunity for nation building.
Nor Wahiza’s (2010) study in Malaysia on persons with disabilities and career success
shows that the majority of the respondents are still receiving low monthly salaries. It
reflected the current concerns on the need to improve their objective career success. The
results further showed that the majority of the respondents exhibited moderate and high
levels of subjective career success. This was echoed in the previous literature on the
concerns of the disabled with career and life satisfaction since it is within their locus of
control (Sonali, 2005). This exploratory study calls for the need to conduct a larger study
on career development of persons with disabilities.
In terms of education and training, or HRD for disabled persons, there are 81 intuitions in
the country to support this group (KDISC, n.d.). The intuitions are of various types; some
are affiliated with public universities such as Amputee Rehabilitation Clinic, which is a
service clinic for the medical rehabilitation of University of Malaya. Another category is
managed by the Rotary Club such as the Association of Special Children of Kajang in
Selangor that runs pre-kindergarten and pre-vocational classes for children of all
disabilities, aged 16 years and below. Many institutions are also under the management
of religious-based groups such as Beautiful Gate Career Development Centre for the
Disabled Petaling Jaya that is run by Chinese Methodist Church in Malaysia, and Nuhs
Ark Islamic Montessori School in Shah Alam that is run by a Muslim group. An
important training centre for the disabled is under Department of Social Welfare, Bangi
Industrial Training and Rehabilitation Centre for the Disabled that provides prevocational training for young adults aged 14 to 25 years (in appliance repair, art,
computers and sewing) and vocational training for adults aged 18 to 40 years (in
information management, information technology, electrics and electronics, tailoring,
prosthetics and orthotics).
As yet, there is no recent published statistics on employed disabled persons. However, in
2003 only 5.24% of the total disabled persons were employed (Serajul Haq, 2003).
Hence, Malaysia still has a long way to go to adhere to the Disability Act 2007 that aims
1. Acknowledge and accept the principle that the disabled persons deserve equal
rights and opportunities to fully participate in the community;
2. Ensure that the disabled persons enjoy equitable rights, opportunity and access
within the country’s laws;
3. Eradicate discrimination towards any individual due to his or her disability; and
4. Educate and enhance societal awareness on the rights of persons with disabilities.
Managing Diversity
Workforce diversity encompasses a number of dimensions. These dimensions include
gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, disability, culture, social class, among
others. However, gender employees normally receive the most attention. Nkomo and Cox
(1996), and Lorbiecki and Jack (2000) point out that organizations may benefit
economically from managing the diversity of the workforce. Survey by the Society for
Human Resource Management and Fortune magazine (SHRM, 2001) found that diversity
initiatives benefit companies’ bottom line and help them maintain a competitive edge.
The SHRM study believes that diversity initiatives help the organization keep a
competitive advantage through improving corporate culture (83%), improving employee
morale (79%), higher retention of employees (76%), and easier recruitment of new
employees (75%).
Diversity also drives workers’ creativity and performance. Promoting diversity attracts
talented workers, reduces turnover, and unleashes creativity (Diversity Inc., 2002;
McCuiston and Wooldridge, 2003). Attention to diversity also increases employee
satisfaction and loyalty (McBride and Bostian, 1998). Other researchers found that
diverse group makes higher quality decision (McLeod & Lobel, 1996) and engage in
more creative problem solving (Nemeth & Wachter, 1983).
However, not all studies support a positive linkage between diversity and performance.
Group heterogeneity has been associated with stereotyping in-group/out-group effect,
affective conflict and turnover (Jehn, Northcraft & Neale, 2000), discrimination,
prejudice and biases (Koonce, 2001). Thomas and Ely (1996) suggest that increasing
demographic variation within firms did not in itself increase organizational performance.
William and O’Reilly (1998) conclude that mismanaged diversity initiatives can
negatively affect both processes and outcomes. Kwak (2003) noted that diversity can
either help or hinder firm performance, depending on the organization’s culture, its
strategies, and its human resources practices.
Managing and valuing diversity is a key component of the effective people management,
which can improve workplace productivity (Black Enterprise, 2001). Managing diversity
is more than just acknowledging differences in the people. It involves recognizing the
value of differences, combating discrimination, and promoting inclusiveness (Green,
Lopez & Kepner, 2002). The ability to manage diversity requires tolerance for
differences and workplace equality (Thamem, 2008). In addition, managers should
undergo special training to help understand the differences in employee compositions.
This can be done through mentoring programs, constructive and critical feedback (Flagg,
The theory that is widely used to understand the diversity and polarity among individuals
is social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). According to the theory, people will
exhibit preferable reference toward their in-group members while for the out-group
members they tend to have prejudice, bias, and conflict. This results in social polarization
between different groups. In addition, diverse groups may result in competition and
conflict. Therefore, managers should try to integrate and let them collaborate in
completing the task with different people contributing their expertise (Williams &
O’Reilly, 1998). It is hoped that in this respect diversity is seen as giving a positive
impact on productivity and organization performance, superseding the negative impact of
diversity at workplace.
Leaders who are able to manage conflict in culturally diverse workgroup use open
communication as the means of combating conflict that arise (Ayoko, 2007). The leaders
need to focus on coaching, listening, and networking, to integrate the cultural diverse
group, so that they are able to understand each other for the betterment of the
organization. Therefore, the managers act as change agents to maximize the benefits of
the culturally diverse workforce (Kappa Omicron Nu Honor Society, 2002; Allen et al.,
2008), even though leading a diverse workforce requires considerable times, energy and
skills (McCuiston, Wooldridge & Pierce, 2004).
Recognizing the increase in the number of married female employees and hence dualcareer families, intervention options for balanced lives through family-friendly programs
need to be developed and implemented that would benefit working parents, their families
and organizations. Studies have shown that the implementation of family-friendly
programs is associated with positive outcomes including greater commitment to their
organization, greater intention to remain in their organization, and a higher level of job
satisfaction (Jones & McKenna, 2002). A study of private manufacturing organizations
and the government in Malaysia reveal that the organizations studied and the government
were still at the early stage of development of policies which could support the
reconciliation of demands of work and family life (Aminah & Zoharah, 2008). The
results imply the need to improve the family-friendly policy practices and the need to
recognize the development of such policies as an important task for human resource
development policy-makers.
One of the categories of family-friendly programs includes work arrangement such as
flexible work schedules. Flexible work schedules involve allowing workers to set their
own hours within some basic parameters. Employees can choose arrival and departure
times within a range set by the employer. Usually there is a core time that all employees
need to be at work, and employees can then schedule around that core time, for example
by coming in an hour earlier and leaving an hour earlier. This arrangement provides
employees with more control, enabling them to balance the demands in their lives.
Flexitime helps employees match their caring schedules and can also significantly reduce
commuting time by allowing employees to travel at lower traffic times, and thereby
maximize time at home. With the availability of flexitime work arrangement, both men
and women need to be encouraged to use flexitime to accommodate their caring
schedules. A study conducted on married female professionals revealed that among the
human resource practices that are appropriate to help alleviate work-family conflict,
flexitime was endorsed as the most preferred work arrangement (Lo, 2003).
In Malaysia, some organizations are adopting the flexitime work arrangement whereby
for example, employees can start work one hour earlier or later and leave work one hour
earlier or later than the regular working time. In the public sector, work-time
arrangement that is different from the regular stipulated time could be practiced with
permission from the Public Service Director General according to the provision stated in
the General Orders for government employees (Government of Malaysia, 2003). Other
work arrangements such as flexipace or telecommuting are less often used. Although
many types of work are amenable to flexiplace, including editing, accounting, designing
and computer programming, the limits to flexible locations are set by the need for contact
with clients, patients or others and the need for specific equipment which is only
available at the workplace. The attitudes of leaders toward teleworking is an important
facilitating factor in the adoption of teleworking in an organization (Jamilah Othman &
Azizan Asmuni, 2001). Having leaders who are open and supportive, for example, helps
in initiating this mode of work in an organization, besides availability of infrastructure
and good return on investment. Home-based teleworking is not widely practiced in
Malaysia. For example, in 12 airlines-industry related companies studied, no incidence of
home-based teleworking was found (Jamilah & Azizan, 2001).
Besides work arrangement, other benefits available are health-related. Malaysian women
are given 60 days of paid maternity leave for a maximum of five times throughout their
service in the government sector (Government of Malaysia, 2003). Recently the proposal
for 90 days of paid maternity leave had been tabled in the parliament and the approval is
still pending. Married male government employees in Malaysia are given seven days of
paid paternity leave for a maximum of five times throughout their service (Government
of Malaysia, 2003). However the availability of such leave in the private sector varies
from two to three days (Aminah, 2007; Aminah & Zoharah, 2008).
Another benefit employers should consider is the childcare facilities. The need for
childcare tends to increase as more dual-career couples, especially mothers with young
children, enter the labour force. Although, the Malaysian government provides a grant to
partially support organizations in establishing child care centres, only a few organizations
are willing to establish these centres. Aminah (2007) reported in her study that most of
the female married employees (52.7%) studied send their children to baby-sitters and
only a small portion (3%) of these employees send their children to a childcare centre
mainly due to the rising cost of child care. This implies the need for employers to
subsidize the cost besides the government aid. A study was conducted in a private
manufacturing company in Malaysia to explore the reasons the company set-up a
childcare centre at the workplace (Zoharah & Aminah, 2009). The reasons were to attract
and retain employees, to reduce unplanned leave and absenteeism, and to increase
productivity. The findings suggest that organisational culture and the human resource
professionals are important in influencing the organisation’s decision to set-up its
childcare centre.
Considering the increasing cost of child care services, the Finance Ministry should
provide tax exemption to working mothers on the money they spend to send their
children for such care, and provide tax incentives to employers who provide child care
facilities at their premises as a way to encourage women with children to remain more
permanently in employment. This could in turn facilitate the upward mobility of
employed women.
Corporations and professional associations may respond to the pressures of people
providing eldercare by offering innovative and affordable eldercare benefits to ease their
burden. Employers could not only help families cope with their growing challenges of
aging but also families who are coping with eldercare issues by offering an important
benefit that competing employers may not offer, while increasing employee loyalty,
retention and productivity. According to the research by the Kaiser Foundation in the
United States, employers responded to the eldercare issues in the workplace by providing
employer paid consultation and referral programs, and employee-paid long-term care
insurance plans (O’Toole, 2002). It was also revealed that, although previously only large
national corporations could afford eldercare benefits programmes, presently the
programmes have been offered by other employers in a variety of forms with services as
simple as toll-free call centers and web sites with information about local eldercare
programmes to access to a growing list of services, discounts and assistance from
geriatric specialists. While still a relatively new trend in employee benefits, these
programmes can result in cost savings to employers in both retention and reduced
absenteeism. Similar programmes should be adopted by employers in Malaysia.
As a support for carers of dependents, including the elderly, and to ease the caregiver
strain in Malaysia, there are government provisions for child, parental and relative health
care leave. This leave refers to time away from employment for care for a seriously ill
child, parent or close relative. Government employees are entitled to a maximum of 180
days of half-paid leave to take care of a sick child, parent or close relative (Government
of Malaysia, 2003). This is in line with the promotion of a caring society and is well
accepted by employees.
Another issue related to diversity of the workforce is the glass ceiling. Given the
continued existence of glass ceiling issues and the failure of affirmative action to fully
address inequities in the career advancement of women, more direct action should be
taken in modifying the traditional career development systems. Programs that promote
valuing differences and managing diversity can be useful in creating a positive climate
for career advancement. This requires education and training to change some of the
underlying assumptions, values, and beliefs that sustain barriers like the glass ceiling.
Additionally, the organization should create an environment in which female workers feel
they can prosper and flourish.
With regard to sexual harassment, organizations must take affirmative steps to deal with
this problem at the workplace. Werner and DeSimone (2009) had outline four steps and
issues relevant to these steps. These steps include:
1) Preparation of a policy and complaint procedure that is up-to-date and understood by
all members of the organization;
2) Assessment of the organizational climate in terms of the management’s readiness to
accept the relevant programs and the employees’ feelings about harassment issues;
3) Determine the content of the training program which would include current laws,
organizational policies and procedures, responsibilities of supervisors, and methods of
4) Selection of trainers who have both expert knowledge of the law and an understanding
of the organizational politics.
The aging workforce will require a combination of approaches by government and
individual enterprises to ensure that both economic and personal benefits are realized. If
Asian nations were to follow Western models then governments will need to take on an
educative role to protect the rights of minorities and ensure that discriminatory practices
against the law lead to prosecution (Obrien 2001). Enterprises may need to examine their
practices to place greater emphasis on what individuals can contribute and less on their
Malaysia’s workforce has become increasingly more diverse, and this trend toward
diversity will continue. Diversity issues have several implications for human resource
development professionals. The increase in the number of married female employees and
hence dual-career families points to the need for intervention options for balanced lives
through family-friendly programs that would benefit working parents, their families and
organizations. With the increasing numbers of women in the workforce, organizations
should continue to provide developmental opportunities that will prepare women for
advancement into senior management positions and provide safeguards against sexual
The aging of the workforce points to the importance of creating human resource
development programs that recognize and address the learning-related needs of both
younger and older workers. Although the Malaysian workforce is relatively younger than
those in other Asian countries like Japan and Singapore (Patrickson, 2001), there is still a
need to address the consequences of the ageing workforce. Human resource practices will
need to be adapted to ensure the skill levels of older workers are continually updated and
that discrimination is not condoned. Policies need to be formulated and legislation
enacted to protect older workers from age discrimination, and to provide income support
for those no longer able to find and maintain employment.
Employers who are reluctant to accept that caring is an issue for them would be well
advised to consider this more seriously since by offering innovative and competing
benefits that competing employers may not offer, there will be an increase in employee
loyalty, retention and productivity. Supervisors and human resource managers as well as
co-workers also should be willing to respond positively to employees’ needs. With the
influx of women in the workforce and increase in dual-career families, organizations and
the government should develop family-friendly policies that could support the
reconciliation of the demands of work and family life of employees. Besides, there is
need for intervention programmes to help disabled persons to have equal opportunities to
be employed in the labor market. Organizations should create work environments that
will attract a diverse workforce with respect to gender, age, ethnicity and abilities who
could work with increased levels of motivation, satisfaction and commitment. With
globalization and in this fast-changing work environment, diversity should be looked
upon as the norm and not the exception.
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