I still remember the words my mother had said to me while I was thinking of applying for a degree in something typically unconventional for a girl, “You can be whatever you want to be.”
My mother has always been supportive of my decisions. Even though sometimes, it’s a little different from what she had in mind or what she imagines her only daughter doing, she was always accepting.
It may not be how she sees me, but she has always supported whatever I wanted to pursue. I once asked her if she would still be proud of me if I were to be a businesswoman, an engineer, or even an astronaut.
With an indulgent smile, she looked me in the eye and said, “Of course. Like I said, `Whatever you want to be.’” I take that quote with me everywhere, and if I were to have a daughter some day, I’d say the same to her as well.
However, unfortunately, I have seen a lot of my fellow friends whose mothers and family members don’t share the same thoughts.
Which brings me to the question I have been asking myself: Despite our modern society, many Malaysian women still struggle to be taken seriously in the workplace. So, why are some women actively trying to make things even harder for other women to advance in their careers?
What An Unconventional Career Choice for A Woman
Recently, Datuk Prof. Dr. Muhaya Mohamad came under fire for saying women should be more soft spoken and act a little stupid in order for them to get married. Because according to her, men like girls who are essentially damsels in distress.
After being called out by netizens for what she said, she later went on to say that she didn’t mean for it to come out how it sounded. She was saying that even if you are smarter than your male counterparts, do not show that off, because men like to be in charge and in a position of power, and we, as women, should let them.
As a person raised in a predominantly male family, I can understand where she’s coming from and what she’s trying to say. But the way she said it made many Malaysian women feel like the only way to get male validation is if we acted more helpless and “dumb”, so to speak.
Sadly though, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard of things like this. But usually, it’s from the mouth of a man. There are so many forms of sexism that women are subjected to, but the worst form we could ever get is from other women. What happened to girls supporting girls?
According to a 2020 survey called “Voices of Malaysian Women On Discrimination & Harassment in the Workplace”, 56% of Malaysian women have experienced at least one form of gender discrimination in the workplace. The survey also mentioned that 1 in every 5 women were questioned on their ability to perform certain tasks as a woman.
We can’t work without a man breathing down our necks and telling us whatever we’re doing is wrong and against our innate abilities. Now we have to worry about women doing the same thing too?
Because of this, some women might feel that working isn’t really worth all that trouble if all you get is backlash and judgement for not being able to be a “traditional” woman.
Girls who are graduating or struggling to find work would feel the added pressure of wanting to start a family, rather than start working when questioned with everyone’s favourite line, “Bila nak kahwin ni?”
As if a woman can’t get married and still be an entrepreneur or a mechanic or even a firefighter?
Work Like a Woman
I say, don’t listen to them. If you have a goal in mind, follow through with it! Be it with a traditional career choice , or something that might get stares and turned noses from your aunties.
If you’re working to support your family, it doesn’t matter what career path you choose. What matters is that you work hard towards it.
At the end of the day, if you get to put food on the table and your family’s happy, that’s a win in my book. Working women come in all shapes and forms and we’re all just trying to make ends meet. There aren’t many of us as of yet.
In the first quarter of 2021, females make up over 38.9% of the workforce, which is a smaller amount than last year. But we’re growing. Slowly and gradually.
What Works For Women At Work
If you’re a female fresh graduate looking for a job, don’t be afraid. There are others just like you.
For most, starting a new job is exciting but also nerve-wracking. You’re in a new environment, a place that’s unfamiliar and you have so many expectations. You bring an optimism with you that people can sense a mile away. You might also wonder whether or not you can achieve your work goals in that particular company.
From girl to girl, here are some tips that could be useful to you if you’re entering the working world:
1. Be alert and eager, but don’t let people push you around.
So you’re new at the job and of course you’d want to please people and make people think that you’re a competent worker. But at the same time, you shouldn’t let other people push you around.
If you’re doing a task as a favour for someone, make sure you’re doing it because you want to, not because you’re forced to. Don’t let other people boss you around just because you’re the newbie!
2. Find your clique so you can learn from each other.
You can definitely learn a lot from the seniors at your workplace. After all, they’ve been there longer and they probably have shortcuts and cheat sheets on how things operate.
Find another female worker to make friendly conversations with who knows the ropes around the office. But let it be said that you should NOT involve yourself in office drama. If they try to pull you in, excuse yourself from the situation because things can get pretty messy.
3. Learn from criticism.
When you have a job, you most certainly have expectations on how you want it to be. The same goes for how your employer and colleagues see you. When someone gives you feedback that’s not particularly easy to hear, leave your emotions out of it and use their comments as an opportunity to grow and better your skills. Learning from your mistakes makes you a more knowledgeable employee.
4. Learn to be independent
Getting help from others when you need it is important, but what’s equally important is learning how to figure things out for yourself. Sometimes, you’ll be in a position that requires you to think on your feet and no one will be there to help you. So, make sure to do your research before diving into anything! Don’t fully place your trust on a colleague, even if you’re close to them.
5. Have a critical and positive approach and mindset.
Sometimes, things don’t go your way. The project you were supposed to handle wasn’t as easy as you thought it would be. You have a disagreement with your co-worker, or the way you approach a work-friendship isn’t working. That’s okay. Circle back, strategise and work on the problems again with fresh ideas. Chin up, sis. You’ll get ‘em next time!
Supporting Women, In Any Path They Choose
It’s 2021. Why is it still so difficult for people to accept that some women have their own goals that don’t involve a patriarchal party?
Women want to earn money for themselves and live a life of independence. So why is the debate over women workers still ongoing?
We sometimes hear from fellow women on television saying that a woman’s job should be to bear children and cook for their husbands. Granted, yes, some women do want that, and that’s okay. But isn’t it unjust and backwards to assume that all women share the same opinion?
The working world is already tough enough as it is without the help of other women to bring them down.
The case of the matter is, times are changing.
It’s normal now for women to be having jobs that are traditionally for men. Instead of putting down other women for wanting to strive toward something different, why not just either mind our business, or look into what other women are interested in.
Who knows? Maybe you could find your passion while you do that too!
If you would like a nudge in a new career path, read up on how these women in STEM aim to grow in the scientific field, one girl at a time: