According to many Singaporean men, local women have been dealt a good hand of cards because they don’t have to spend two years of their lives doing NS. There have been numerous reports about how more and more women are joining the workforce, which seems to corroborate this view further.
Be that as it may, having more women in the workforce doesn’t necessarily mean there is more gender equality in the employment landscape. Here are four reasons the rising number of women in the Singapore workforce belies the inequalities which persist.
Participation in the workforce is fuelled partly by necessity rather than opportunity
Despite the high cost of childcare and family-unfriendliness of many employers, more women are working than ever before. But this isn’t necessarily due to greater equality at the workplace.
Rather, the cost of living has gotten so unmanageable that many families are simply unable to survive without two full-time incomes.
Note that this means men, too, are forced to work full-time rather than opt to be stay-at-home dads, so it’s an unfortunate situation that affects both parties, and the lack of flexible or high-value part-time opportunities also means that couples don’t have the option of having both work part-time.
Few women in leadership positions
Anyone who’s done the whole corporate ladder thing will know that the higher up you climb on that ladder, the fewer women you’ll see.
A 2016 survey found that almost 80% of Singaporean female workers felt they were inadequately represented in leadership positions. Meanwhile, about 20% of our current Members of Parliament are women.
Rather than dismiss all women as wannabe taitais, it would be wiser to examine the reasons for which women are still hitting a glass ceiling.
As if that wasn’t discouraging enough, in most sectors, women are paid at least 10% less than men for doing the exact same job.
Archaic attitudes make it difficult for women to succeed at both home and the workplace
Despite the fact that more women than ever now work full-time, the bulk of the housework and childrearing still falls to them.
Singapore is still very much a patriarchal society, where many men lament the passing of the good old days when women were happy to do their bidding and be dutiful wives, mothers and daughters-in-law. (And let’s be honest, more than a few women also hold the outmoded view that it’s the man who should bring home the lion’s share of their income, and pay for most of the family home.)
At the same time, jobs demanding long hours and inflexible schedules favour the salaryman who’s got a wife at home to do everything from looking after the kids to preparing a multi-dish dinner every evening, freeing up his time to dedicate his life to work.
In addition, Singapore employers are by and large very unforgiving of women taking time off from their careers to look after their kids, and there are some who avoid hiring women who wish to start families.
I’ve worked at companies where bosses complained when pregnant employees took time off to go for medical appointments, or openly speculated that they were skiving when mothers took childcare leave, so it seems there is still some very archaic thinking going on.
Women without a support system find it very hard to succeed professionally
While there are some success stories of women who have managed to claw their way up the corporate ladder while still having families, it would be misleading to assume these opportunities are open to all females alike.
Take the head of wealth management and consumer banking at DBS, for example. She was featured on BBC recently, and admitted that she wouldn’t have been able to reach her level of success without help from her parents and domestic helper, who could look after her kids and help with housework.
Not all women are so lucky to have that kind of support, and those who don’t are often forced to choose between their families and careers.
What struggles do women face at the workplace? Tell us in the comments!