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4 Roadblocks Singaporean Women Face at Work

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Joanne Poh

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Women’s rights are a sensitive issue in Singapore. Any argument that women face sexism, whether at work or in their personal lives, tends to get overshadowed by the retort that only men have to do NS, or protests about how marriage and divorce are designed to protect women.

While we’re neither doubting the contributions that guys make to national security nor arguing that NS should not be the responsibility of both genders, it’s time to acknowledge the fact that women face some very real roadblocks at work that their male counterparts do not, such as the following:

 

Double standards

The corporate world was designed by men, and to scale the corporate ladder, one often has to play by masculine rules. Yet when women try to do the same, they are often not held to the same standards.

In particular, when a man and a woman exhibit the same behaviour at the office, they tend to get judged differently.

Men who are assertive are labelled go-getters, while women who speak up and go after what they want are more likely to be viewed as abrasive or bitchy. Women who wish to win the support of their colleagues are often forced to try to come off as inoffensive, or try to get what they want through indirect ways.

 

Lack of understanding with regard to family obligations

Women in Singapore are still responsible for the bulk of childrearing duties and housework. This is despite the fact that 76% of women between the ages of 25 and 54 now work.

It is clear that a woman who holds down a full-time job and tries to raise a family at the same time is at a huge disadvantage compared to her peers who can devote longer hours to their jobs. This is made worse by the fact that very long hours are the norm in Singapore.

At the workplace, attitudes towards women who have to leave on time or take childcare leave are often negative. It is not uncommon to hear bosses complain about employees who do so, seeing them as trying to take advantage of the system. Hiring managers are often concerned about whether a female candidate is married or planning to have children, and conveniently firing pregnant employees is unfortunately not unheard of.

Women who manage to successfully climb the corporate ladder while raising a family usually do so while relying heavily on maids and in-laws.

 

Sexism and harassment

While the Protection from Harassment Act, effective since 2014, was designed in part to protect employees from workplace harassment, many cases go unreported.

A study undertaken on workplace incivility showed that Singaporeans tend to take the power imbalance in organisations as a given. This, together with a cultural emphasis on “face” and consensus, makes Singaporeans more likely to tolerate mistreatment and uncivil behaviour in the workplace than people in the other cultures in the study.

Victims of workplace harassment often feel like they would ruin their careers or not have enough evidence to make a successful report.

To be fair, the vast majority of women aren’t facing overt and aggressive sexual harassment at work. But far more have to deal with snide, suggestive remarks or lewd jokes.

Of course, guys can be victims of harassment, too. But it tends to happen much more frequently and persistently to women.

 

Pay gap

Women are still being paid more than 10% less to do the same job as men in most occupational categories.

As directors of SGX-listed companies, men out-earn women by a whopping 43.2%.

With all the above factors working against them, it really isn’t that much of a surprise that only 59% of the Singapore women in a recent survey were satisfied with their employers, making the Republic the fourth worst performing country in the poll.

This isn’t good news, considering the government hopes more women will enter and remain in the workforce for the sake of the economy.

As a woman, what roadblocks do you face at work? Tell us in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.