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Level playing field if meritocracy allowed
Published on: Saturday, September 02, 2017

Kota Kinabalu: Meritocracy gives women level playing field is one of the key messages for policy makers delivered at the 1st Stem Women & Leadership Conference, here, recently.As one of the key speakers on the message, Shahnas bte Oli Mohamed is a proud Muslim Bumiputera woman entrepreneur and a licensed pharmacist, who won the Asia Pacific Most Promising Entrepreneur 2010 Award on merit.

She is not in favour of the non-meritorious aspects of the New Economic Policy (NEP), citing the Sultan of Perak, as she believes that Islam urges its followers to strive for the best irrespective of ethnicity.

"Meritocracy and even playing fields for all," she wanted for Malaysia, particularly for the women, after some 60 years of independence.

She said she was a true Assunta girl born at the hospital, went to the primary and secondary schools, where the Christian sisters taught her to "do her best and God will take care of the rest."

Recently, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah listed four areas – unity, education, economy and integrity – where the country has regressed, and the NEP was partly to blame after it was exploited by the political class for self-enrichment.

Nazrin said the NEP had strayed from its original track, notably in the abuse of wealth distribution opportunities, leading to large-scale leakages in the Bumiputera economic share.

This has also caused disgruntlement not just among the non-Bumiputeras who view the policy as discriminatory, but also among Bumiputeras.

Although the current and future trend is going to be more female university graduates, she said "it appears that Malaysian girls are not aiming to break the Stem glass ceiling yet.

"Enrolment of females in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects are at a low level.

"Women made up less than half of the graduates in engineering and technology in 2015.

"Women in Stem are 'stuck' at entry level or middle level with few who make it to the top," she recalled.

According to Shahnas, ambition is not a dirty word. Not every woman needs to dream of being a CEO but every women needs to strive to be the best they can be.

"Women represent the largest economic workforce, and Stem being the direction of our future makers, it's imperative that women are able to be hireable, relevant and able to compete in the workforce."

Why is it important? "Organisations with diverse leadership outperform those without," she said in her paper presentation entitled: "Stems of Empowerment" at the event held at Promenade Hotel, here.

"Diversity in the field ensures that innovation is sustained. We have seen the influences of diversity in innovating women's health and products that benefit primary caregivers and also an overall increase the usage of innovations, products and solutions being created and success of their application.

"Employing different perspectives and abilities can enrich the creativity and insight of products and increase the chances of pure innovation," Shahnas said.

She cautioned HR staff and managers to be aware of the unconscious biases in place and seek to train for awareness against it.

"It can be as simple as if you are rating a woman subordinate as aggressive, check yourself and ask, what specifically or exactly is aggressive? And would you consider it aggressive if it was a man.

"We are all socialised in a way whereby it is expected for boys to lead and not girls.

A girl who leads is considered bossy, as we have been systematically made to ascribe to boys being leaders."

Shahnas exhorts Malaysian women to: "Raise your hands to volunteer for more leadership roles and opportunities to develop yourselves further.

"Find role models to strive for and aim higher. Continue to spur women to push boundaries."

She said women were created special, they were made to multitask: daughter, wife, mother, career.

Embrace this and provide support to reap the best results.

"Remove barriers, for example, sexual harassment, unfair bias, glass ceilings etc. It has to be a policy at the highest level of the organisation.

She called for the "Building of the 'I can' versus 'can I?' mindset".

For the government and corporate Malaysia, she encouraged to focus on middle management to transition them to senior management.

"Encourage women to consider beyond the gendered stereotype roles within their careers.

"Ensure that diversity and inclusion policies are in place to support women who don't take their foot off the pedal.

"Intervention towards younger girls on unconscious biases they have in planning their future."

Quoting Sheryl Sandberg, she encouraged the conference female participants: "So please ask yourself: 'What would I do if I weren't afraid?' And then go do it."

Shahnas heads Natural Wellness in partnership with an Arab, also known as Natural Wellness Holdings Sdn Bhd, which is the mother company to the Natural Wellness group of companies that are involved in the healthcare business namely Natural Wellness Industries Sdn Bhd, Natural Wellness Biotech Sdn Bhd and NW Pharmaceuticals Sdn Bhd.

Natural Wellness Industries Sdn Bhd is an ISO 9001:2008 and GMP-certified manufacturing and commercialisation arm of the group and has a wide range of products including cosmetics, supplements, health food and beverages and also over the counter products whereas NW Pharmaceuticals focuses on similar activities involving novel generic pharmaceuticals.

Natural Wellness Biotech, the research arm of the group, is a Bionexus status company awarded by the Malaysian Biotech Corporation, and is actively involved in identifying and developing new entities including natural, pharmaceutical and biotechnology products for commercialisation in the healthcare market.

Shahnas said Natural Wellness places great emphasis on biotechnology with a focus on developing medicines to improve health through scientific innovations on the principles of pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics.

"This is in parallel with our mission to provide high quality, up-to-date healthcare products at an affordable price to the communities we live in.

"In research of natural ingredients, new active plant compounds identified are extracted to develop standardised extracts using high technology methods like super critical fluid extraction, and then utilised in creating innovative, leading edge product formulations that are evidence based, backed by science with the advantage of being tested by time and tradition.

"In novel generic pharmaceutical development, products are formulated based on current market needs and requirements without violating the patency rights of the innovator and made swiftly in the market.

"In biotechnology, Natural Wellness is involved strategically with several large companies in developing, manufacturing and marketing biopharmaceuticals like vaccines and also bio-similar products."

Shahnas said as a relatively young company that started as a trading entity, Natural Wellness has moved downstream with its own manufacturing facility in 2004. The company then went from marketing and selling further down the value chain into discovering and developing innovative products for the healthcare industry.

"Natural Wellness today has expanded from its humble beginnings in natural products to being a respected multi segmented player in the healthcare market. Natural Wellness has offices in Australia, Egypt and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and their products is exported across the world including Australia, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and the Middle East.

"Natural Wellness has formed strategic partnerships with leading institutions of higher learning like Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia for product research and development, and also with large companies both local like CCM Duopharma Biotech Sdn Bhd and foreign like Capsugel, a division of Pfizer,USA, Multi Apex Pharma Egypt, Cipla India and Sinovac China for product commercialisation.

"Natural Wellness is the proud owner of several trademarks and copyrights including its own brand and icons to identify therapeutic classes which are found on their product packaging."

She said besides their own brand, Natural Wellness products are among others marketed under leading brands like Amway, Vitahealth, Pharmaniaga's Citrex, Hai-O and Cosway.

"The company aims to have its own high technology manufacturing facility of biotechnology and life sciences and hopes one day to be the Malaysian pioneer in the development of new chemical entities.

"Though still at its infancy stages, Natural Wellness believes in the importance of giving back to society.

As a company we contribute to the Kampung Medan Single Mothers and Orphans Home and the University Malaya Medical Centre Friends Association.

"Natural Wellness is also a training and internship centre for both private and public institutions of higher learning."

Shahnas said Natural Wellness believes their people are the force and strength behind the power they exuberate.

Efforts are concentrated on developing young talent into highly skilled knowledge workers. - David Thien



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