Gender inclusivity in Singapore’s workplace has been something we’ve been aspiring to – to offer both men and women equal opportunities in areas like job roles, and where promotions are based on merit, and where there’s a diversity of opinions and voices.
Part of the journey for both employers and employees in reaching this has been to build family-friendly workplaces, and also eradicate any unconscious biases by managers in the workplace.
President Halimah Yacob alluded to this at the opening address of the Institute of Policy Studies Women’s Conference in June 2021, saying according to a report by CNA: “The need to take time off work (for caregiving responsibilities) leads to lags in work experience and career progression, and consequently, earnings.”
“Employers and family members therefore need to be more understanding and encouraging by giving them greater support.”
A recent poll held on the WSG Jobs & Career Advice Telegram channel showed most Singaporeans agree, with 86% believing that women do have it harder at the workplace juggling caregiver responsibilities and their careers. Join our Telegram channel for job listings, career tips and more!
More women in the workforce, and taking on PMET roles
Thankfully, some progress has been made, and the numbers are showing that Singaporean women are finding it easier to join the workforce. Our resident female employment rate increasing the past decade from 54% to 57.7% in 2020, according to Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang.
Replying to parliamentary questions by Ms Cheryl Chan (MP for East Coast) and Ms Tin Pei Ling (MP for MacPherson), Minister Gan also revealed that women’s share amongst professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) has also increased over the same decade, from 41.1% to 45.6%.
Support for women who are caregivers
In addition, Minister Gan also shared more about what the Government is doing to help encourage women to take up formal employment, and also how to mitigate the responsibilities of caregiving on their careers, finances and retirement plans.
She shared various subsidised care services and grants available, adding: “These include supporting their caregiving needs directly, enabling working caregivers to better manage both work and their caregiving responsibilities through flexible work arrangements, and aiding their re-entry into the workforce through employment facilitation and training support.”
Why does this matter?
Minister Gan shared her belief that securing and staying in employment is key for Singaporean women to remain financially resilient and also save funds for retirement.
“With increasing participation in the workforce and higher wages, successive cohorts have been able to accumulate more CPF savings for retirement today compared to a decade ago.”
Growth and digital sectors aren’t just for men
According to quotes by CNA, she added: “We are observing more women joining growth sectors such as the information and communications, financial services, and health and social services.
“Altogether, women make up 52.8%in these three sectors.”
The share of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) jobs has also increased from 29.9% in 2015 to 32.4% in 2020, reports revealed.
However, the Singapore government wants more women to pursue careers in these fields, according to Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.
At the World Engineers Summit in November 2021, he revealed that fewer women who graduate with STEM qualifications pursue a career in a related field, compared to the proportion of men.
However, more women are also pursuing university degrees in the field, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Education last year.
Based on the combined university intake data from 2019, women accounted for 41% of the cohort in STEM courses, up from 38% in 2017!
These include courses in architecture, building and real estate, dentistry engineering sciences, health sciences, information technology, medicine and the natural, physical and mathematical sciences across Singapore’s six universities.
Combating bias is key for Singapore women
But ultimately, for women to reach their full potential in Singapore, workplace biases will need to be eradicated. Dr Sherry Aw, an independent fellow at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, shared with the Straits Times: “I’ve been asked many times (throughout my career) if I were a post-doctorate (researcher) or a student, while my husband, who also works in the sciences, has never been asked that question.”
Dr Aw has been doing research on movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s Disease and the tremors that result, by researching fruit flies for years, and has made important breakthroughs with her research.
While efforts on gender bias are clearly making some headway, there’s still much to do in solving the issue in our Singapore workplaces. In fact, a poll held on the WSG Jobs & Career Advice Telegram channel recently revealed that 84% still believe some form of gender bias still exists in our workplace.
She added: “People look at me and they don’t automatically see authority, (which leads me to) think that if I were a man, I would automatically be accorded with more respect.”
Dr Aw believes that women also tend to underestimate or undervalue their own capabilities, and many fail to realise that have “exactly what it takes”.
She hopes that there will be more role models to educate people and women to recognise and move past their own biases.
“It’s up to leaders, both men and women, to speak up and ensure that one day, the playing field will really be equal,” she concludes.
To that end, read on to learn how Singaporean women are powering forward in their STEM careers!