US$20 billion—that’s how much GDP McKinsey & Company estimated Singapore could gain each year if we advanced our gender equality at the same rate as the world’s best performer, Norway.
After that report was released, Singapore actually took not 1, but 3 years to grow her GDP by US$20 billion. That’s not to say Singapore made no headway in gender equality, but rather that more can be done to level the playing field.
It’s high time women in Singapore are given equal opportunities, recognition, and support at work, especially in traditionally male-dominated sectors. And the good news is that it’s happening! Slowly but surely, sectors like transportation and technology in Singapore are opening up to women. We take a look at the progress of 5 sectors in Singapore and what they’ve done to narrow the gender gap.
Technology is probably the sector in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) that’s performed the best when it comes to bridging the gender gap. No doubt it’s traditionally a very male-dominated field, but Singapore’s technology sector has been doing a pretty good job at increasing the representation of women.
According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) in 2020, women make up about 41% of Singapore’s tech workforce. To put things into perspective, the regional average for Southeast Asia is 32%, while the global figure stands at 28%. And this 41% is despite the fact that Singapore has one of the lowest proportions of women regionally with educational qualifications in tech. Not bad, eh?
The study suggests this is happening because of our booming tech sector, which rapid growth attracts women from other education backgrounds too.
Another piece of heartening news is that it looks like younger women are leading the way forward. For example, multinational software solutions company BairesDev reported in their Women in Tech 2022 report that about 40% of applicants in that age range were female. And as companies make a conscious effort to hire more women, we can expect even more women to follow their lead. Zippia’s 2022 survey found that 52% of women felt having more female role models in a company would put that company in a better position to attract more women.
2. Science and Mathematics
Science and Mathematics are two essential pillars of the STEM umbrella, and the proportion of women in STEM has increased from 29.9% in 2015 to 32.4% in 2020. Increasingly, women are proving themselves just as capable as men when it comes to the logical thought processes, analytical skills and rigorous scientific methods that you’d need in these industries.
Unlike STEM sectors like engineering, the sciences and mathematics don’t appear to have a problem attracting females to pursue them at university. Based on data from the government for the period between 2005 and 2020, 62% of graduates of natural, physical and mathematical science courses at university were women.
So, why aren’t there more women in Science and Mathematics?
It looks like the main blocker to an even higher representation of women in Science and Mathematics is a matter of mindset and stereotypes. A 2022 study by NTU funded by MOE found that Singapore women are less confident of their maths and science abilities than men, despite performing on par with them. This sort of thinking devolves into an unfounded belief that they don’t belong and are unlikely to succeed in STEM, which they see as a man’s world. That’s when they decide not to pursue a career in science or math because it’s just “not for them”.
Gender gaps in STEM employment are not just a labour market or economic issue. They stem (no pun intended) from broader societal perceptions and the prevailing stereotype that men are better at math and science—or worse, more capable overall. Men, listen up as well, because this is where both genders can play an equal role in quashing the gender bias.
How can we encourage women to pursue Science and Mathematics?
As the NTU researchers write, “women are not staying away from STEM education and careers because they are choosing not to be like men, rather there are barriers of participation which must be dismantled.” Honestly, it’s natural for people to want to believe that our systems are fair and just stick to the status quo. But the first step to tearing apart biases is recognition. Once we admit there is a problem, we then need to identify where and when these gender biases are perpetuated. It could be anything from career fairs in schools, to offhand remarks made to an impressionable young child that convince her that math is for boys and humanities is for girls. These are the kinds of seeds that can grow into a mindset of gender bias and self-doubt, and that we need to break down at their root.
How often do you see a female engineer? We’re guessing not too often. That’s because engineering is probably the STEM field where women are the least represented. According to Zippia’s 2022 survey, women hold only 15% of engineering jobs in the US.
However, that doesn’t mean the engineering sector in Singapore hasn’t made any progress for women. We don’t have the female engineer numbers for Singapore as a whole, but we do know that 24% of the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA)’s engineers are female as of September 2020. That’s a big increase from 11 years earlier in 2009, when it was at a flat zero.
Additionally, platforms like the Society of Women Engineers Singapore (SWE@SG) are playing an important role in supporting Singapore’s female engineers every day. SWE@SG not only connects employers with future engineers, but also engages and nurtures the women engineer community in Singapore.
Why aren’t the numbers of female engineers even higher?
To encourage even more women to go into engineering, we need to go back to school. The number of women in Singapore who choose to study engineering remains on the low end. In Singapore’s higher education institutions, the numbers are around 22% on average, according to data from MOE from 2016 to 2019. If you recall our previous section, the figure for female graduates of math and science university courses stands at 62%.
Choosing an education in engineering and sustaining an interest in engineering is a big factor when it comes to increasing its female representation. It’s not about difficulty with STEM subjects—in fact, a study by United Women Singapore and Agility Research & Strategy found that 82% of girls compared to 72% of boys rated STEM subjects as “very easy” or “fairly easy”.
So, why aren’t girls in school choosing engineering?
Low confidence in a STEM career is a probable reason girls lose motivation in a STEM career like engineering. When the same group of 11-18 year olds in the study above was asked if they felt qualified for a career in STEM, 38% of girls responded no, compared to 18% of boys.
Another study by United Women Singapore and Ipsos asked the same question to 16-25 year olds, and saw these numbers rising to 42% for females and 33% for males. According to the same research, 1 in 3 girls who once considered studying in a STEM field changed their minds by age 15.
Honestly, if boys and girls received equal exposure and unbiased opportunities to pursue engineering or other STEM fields and then realised it’s not for them, that’s cool. I mean, everyone has personal interests and preferences, right? But the issue here is that it seems girls are still receiving gender biased messaging of what they can do (probably arts) and what they can’t do (STEM) from a young age.
While 33% of boys in the United Women Singapore and Agility Research & Strategy study were told they could do well in STEM-related jobs by their teachers or counsellors, only 27% of girls received the same encouragement. And while 57% of boys said they received similar encouragement from their families, only 39% of girls got the same support. So parents and educational staff out there, please give your girls a fair chance at a STEM career.
We’ve got to admit we were pretty surprised by these numbers. According to Singstat data from 2022, women make up almost a third (29.7%) of Singapore’s construction industry. That’s impressive progress from the 22.9% in 2012 and the 16% in 2000!
One way this has been achieved is through encouraging an education in a construction-related area. One example is the iBuildSG Undergraduate Scholarship and Sponsorship programme. It’s offered by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) to students pursuing full-time Built Environment courses. And from 2014 to 2018, the proportion of female recipients has risen from 32% to 39%.
Just like for the engineering industry, there are also efforts being made by non-profit organisations to increase the representation of women in construction. The biggest name in Singapore for this cause is probably the Association of Women in Construction (Singapore) (AWiCS), which aims to increase the accessibility of the construction industry for women and support their participation.
5. Transport, storage, and logistics
Based on 2022 Singstat data, 26.5% of workers in transportation and storage services in Singapore are female. While that isn’t a huge increase from the 24.9% in 2012, it’s a win nonetheless. Furthermore, taking it as far back as the Singstat data will go, women made up only 21% of the industry in 2000! On a global scale, Singapore fares pretty decently, if not slightly above average. The last estimates for women in logistics worldwide came up to about 20% as of 2018.
More importantly, progress is being made to support women in Singapore’s transportation and supply chain sector. In August 2022, 10 logistics and supply chain firms in Singapore signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with NTUC. They pledged to implement workplace policies that’ll lower the barriers of entry for women to join the industry. We’re talking about flexible work arrangements, training women for their roles, and setting up conducive spaces like lactation rooms for new mothers. The goal is to make it easier and more attractive for women to go into transportation and storage jobs.
6. All this is great for women. So, what’s next for you?
If you’re considering a career in one of the aforementioned sectors, don’t even think about doubting yourself. Take this article as a sign to go for it!
With a ton of avenues available for support, you’ll be able to get help and advice every step of the way. You got this!
Useful portals for job opportunities in these fields
Useful portals for networking and professional development: