Rose Kenerson, Associate
Paul Hastings (New York)

Although Malaysia boasts one of the highest percentages of female university graduates in Asia,1 it has historically struggled to find equal representation in the workplace.2   Obstacles to women entering and remaining in the workforce include traditional familial obligations and inflexible work policies.3   But, the Malaysian government has taken steps to correct this by promoting gender parity in the workplace, particularly for women in leadership positions. 

One way in which the government has promoted female participation is through passing a 2004 policy in which the Malaysian Cabinet called for women to comprise at least 30% of decision-making positions in civil sector employment.4   This quota succeeded in increasing the number of women in public and administrative decisions from 18.8% in 2004 to 32.3% in 2010.5   The government later expanded this initiative in 2011 by calling for women to make up 30% of corporate decision-making positions as well.  While the Cabinet did not mandate this quota, it encouraged companies to meet this goal by 2016.  By the end of 2017, however, few companies had met the 30% goal. Only 14.6% of public company board positions were held by women.6  

For that reason, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced in late 2017 that his government would publish a list of Malaysian companies with no women on their boards in 2018.7   Then, in January 2018, the Prime Minister extended the deadline to achieve 30% representation to 2020.8   At the same time, the Securities Commission published the names of the seven companies in the top 100 listed companies on Bursa Malaysia that had all male boards.9   Whether this shaming technique succeeds in encouraging those companies to diversify their boards remains to be seen.

Corporate Governance Code

In 2012, following the government’s push for 30% female representation in corporate decision-making positions, the Malaysian Securities Commission published its revised Code on Corporate Governance.10   First published in March 2000, the Code first underwent revision in 2007. The 2012 update aimed at focusing on “strengthening board structure and composition recognizing the role of directors as active and responsible fiduciaries.”11  In addition, the Code recommends that, “[t]he board should establish a policy formalizing its approach to boardroom diversity” and “take steps to ensure that women candidates are sought as part of its recruitment exercise.”12   The Code also encourages companies to “explicitly disclose in the annual report its gender diversity policies and targets and the measures taken to meet those targets.”13   Although “observance of the [Code] by companies is voluntary,” all listed companies must “report on their compliance with the [Code] in their annual reports.”14

In 2017, the Securities Commission released a new version of the Malaysian Code on Corporate Governance that updated the 2012 version.15   This updated version contained much of the same language and called for companies to achieve 30% female representation on boards by 2020.16

Bursa Malaysia Stock Exchange Listing Requirements

While the Bursa Malaysia stock exchange’s listing requirements do not contain a quota for the number of women on boards, they do require companies to disclose policies on board composition and gender diversity in their annual reports:  

Chapter 15.08A(3)—The listed issuer must provide, in its annual report, a statement about the activities of the nominating committee in the discharge of its duties for the financial year. Such statement must include…the following information:

            (a) the policy on board composition having regard to the mix of skills, independence and diversity (including gender diversity) required to meet the needs of the listed issuer.17

The listing requirements were last updated in January 2018.  The updates sought to strengthen investor protection, improve market efficiency, streamline regulatory roles, and ease regulatory burdens.18  These stock exchange requirements support the government’s goal of reaching better gender diversity in the boardroom.  If an issuer fails to comply with the requirements, it faces potential de-listing, as “[t]he Exchange may at any time de-list a listed issuer or any listed securities from the Official List in any of the following circumstances: (a) where the listed issuer fails to comply with these Requirements.”19   This encourages transparency in diversity policies through the filing of annual reports with the Exchange. 

Public and Private Sector Groups Support

Despite failing to achieve the 30% female board representation goal, the Malaysian corporate sector has seen growth in female leadership.  Both government agencies and other organizations have aided this positive trend.

In 2015, the Malaysian chapter of the “30% Club” launched with the goal of helping the country meet its target.20   This international organization advocates for increasing female representation at all levels21 and partners with local chapters in numerous countries to further this goal.22   In Malaysia, the 30% Club has also partnered with private companies such as PWC to launch initiatives to empower women.  For example, PWC and the 30% Club launched a mentorship program in 2017, which aimed to “provide[ ] a platform for potential women directors to boost their chances of being appointed on boards, by receiving advice and learning first-hand from the experiences of their mentors.”23  Initiatives such as this one help further the government’s goal of increasing female participation on boards.

Additional Measures to Improve Gender Parity

The Malaysian government has taken a variety of other steps to improve gender parity and increase female representation on boards to encourage companies to meet its 2020 goal.  In 2015, the government allocated RM2.26 billion to the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry for its program promoting women in the workforce.24   Additionally, the government established a six-month program to support women by assisting them in their career development.25   In a speech in early 2018, Prime Minister Razak launched the “Women Empowerment Year,” which aims to increase the role of women in the economic development of the country more broadly.26

Bursa Malaysia has also played a role in promoting women.  In December 2014, it announced a new “Environmental, Social and Governance Index,” which requires constituents to meet certain criteria.  One such criterion includes “the practice of good governance through responsible and ethical decision-making.”27   Shortly after the announcement of the index, Prime Minister Razak announced in May 2015 that listed companies would eventually be required to disclose “the composition and diversity of their boards and top management in terms of gender, ethnicity and age.”28   Although these requirements have yet to come to fruition, the potential expansion of the requirement beyond gender may indicate a willingness to address other inequalities in the future.

Other Diversity Initiatives

Although the Malaysian government has made an effort to increase the number of women on boards, it has not yet explicitly advocated for ethnic diversity on corporate boards in the same way, despite Malaysia’s status as an incredibly diverse country.  Diversity exists not only ethnically, but also on the basis of religion and language.29

There are three main ethnic groups in Malaysia: the Malay, Chinese, and Indians.30   The Malay people comprise what is considered the most populous ethnic group, the Bumiputera, which includes other smaller indigenous groups, such as Orang Asli.31   A 2013 study of 125 companies in the plantation and energy sectors found that of all available board seats in Malaysia, only 4% were held by those of Indian descent, while the Chinese ethnic group occupied 42%, and about 46% was occupied by Bumiputera (Malays and other indigenous groups).32   At that time, most boards in Malaysia had directors from the two main ethnic groups (Chinese and Malays), but not from the Indian group.33  Although the same government push has not occurred for ethnic diversity on corporate boards in Malaysia, Bursa Malaysia has led the charge by encouraging the promotion of diversity generally.34   So far, the government has not echoed these sentiments by specifically calling for higher percentages of ethnic minorities on corporate boards.


Although the Malaysian government has made extensive and increased efforts to promote gender parity in education and the workplace, the country has yet to succeed in reaching its goal of 30% female representation.  The government sector leads the corporate sector in appointing women to leadership positions.  Despite the efforts of the government, Bursa Malaysia, and private groups, at this time it seems unlikely that companies will satisfy the government’s goal of 30% leadership by 2020, despite the four-year extension.

1 See Women Account for One Quarter of Vietnam’s CEOs and Directors,Consultancy Asia (Jan. 19, 2018), (reporting that 62% of Malaysia’s university graduates are women).

2 The UN Development Program reported that female participation in the labor market was 46.1% compared to 78.7% for men.  See Malaysia 2016 Human Rights Report, U.S. Dep’t of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,

3 Discrimination Keeps Most Malaysian Women Out of Formal Job Market, Says Report, HR in Asia (Nov. 28, 2014),

4 Towards Achieving at Least 30 Percent Participation of Women at Decision Making Levels in Malaysia, UNDP (Nov. 2006),  

5 Marie-Laurence Guy et al., Women on Boards: A Conversation with Male Directors, IFC (2011),

6 Kate Whitehead, Hong Kong Companies Slow to Add Women Directors to Their Boards – Why It Makes Good Business Sense To Do So, South China Morning Post (Mar. 8, 2017),

7 Malaysia to Name Firms Lacking Board Diversity, BBC (Sept. 6, 2017),

8 Ooi Tee Ching, Malaysia Wants More Women Board Directors on Listed Companies: PM, NST (Jan. 23, 2018),

9 Press Release, Suruhanjaya Sekuriti Securities Commission Malaysia, Positive Progress Made on Gender Diversity (Jan. 21, 2018),

10 Malaysian Code on Corporate Governance (2012), (last visited Apr. 1, 2018).

11 Id.

12 Id.

13 Id.

14 Id.

15 Press Release, Securities Commission Malaysia, SC Releases New Malaysian Code on Corporate Governance to Strengthen Corporate Culture (Apr. 26, 2017),

16 Securities Commission Malaysia, Malaysian Code on Corporate Governance (2017),

17 Bursa Malaysia Main Market Listing Requirements: Chapter 15.08A(3), visited Apr. 1, 2018).

18 Yew Yee Tee, Amendments to Bursa Malaysia Securities Berhad Main Market Listing Requirements (“Main LR” in Relation to Collective Investment Scheem (“CIS”) and Business Trust, Bursa Malaysia (Apr. 2, 2018),

19 Bursa Malaysia Main Market Listing Requirements: Chapter 16.11(1)(a), (last visited Aug. 23, 2018).

20 PM Launches ‘30% Club’ in Bid to Triple Number of Women on Boards, Malay Mail Online (May 8, 2015),

21 Malaysia, 30% Club, visited Sept. 12, 2018).

22 Malay Mail Online, supra note 20.

23 Empowering women through mentorship – Launch of Board mentoring scheme, PwC Malaysia (July 12, 2017),

24 See Women, Family and Community Development Ministry gets RM2.26b to enhance contribution of women, The Edge Markets (Oct. 10, 2014),

25 See Women in the boardroom: A global perspective, Deloitte (2017),

26 Jonathan Edward, PM: Women Empowerment Needed to Boost Gender Equality, Malay Mail Online (Jan. 17, 2018),

27 See Bursa unveils Environmental, Social and Governance Index, The Star Online (Dec. 24, 2014),

28 Malay Mail Online, supra note 20.

29 Rohail Hassan & Maran Marimuthu, Does Corporate Diversity Really Matter in the Plantation Sector? Empirical Evidence from a World Islamic Leading Country and Market Reaction, Int’l J. Fin. Studies 5, 8 (Aug. 25, 2017). 

30 Id.

31 World Factbook: Malaysia, Central Intelligence Agency, (last updated Aug. 22, 2018).

32 Shamsul Nahar Abdullah, Gender, Ethnic and Age Diversity of the Boards of Large Malaysian Firms and Performance, J. Pengurusan 38, 27-40, 33 (2013).

33 Id.

34 Dalilawati Zainal et al., Corporate Board Diversity in Malaysia: A Longitudinal Analysis of Gender and Nationality Diversity, 3 Int’l J. of Academic Research in Accounting, Fin. and Mgmt. 136-148, 141 (Jan. 2013).