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Is Singapore doing enough for gender parity?

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Though Singapore has made strides on women’s participation, barriers to women working (full-time and in sectors where they can earn higher pay) need to be tackled, new research from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) found.

At a media roundtable today, MGI unveiled a 0.68 Gender Parity Score (GPS) for Singapore on gender equality in work – well above the APAC overall of 0.44, but still somewhat behind the best in the region (0.73).

The GPS uses 15 indicators of gender equality in work and three types of gender equality in society: essential services and enablers of economic opportunity, legal protection and political voice; and physical security and autonomy.

The research further revealed the island nation doubled women’s labour-force participation from 28% in 1970 to 58% in 2016. Today, it is best in region on physical security and autonomy.

That said, there are still gaps to be closed.

MGI’s research observed that the gap between men and women in labour-force participation narrows to parity in the 25 to 29 age group, but widens again from age 30 onwards. It also noted a steeper rate of decline in the female-to-male participation ratio compared to other advanced economies. At the same time, it pointed out Singaporean women are more likely to work part time – not necessarily by choice.

ALSO READ: Closing the gap: How Henkel, Mondeléz, and more advocate for gender inclusivity

A major factor in the above trends is women’s role in childcare. Four in 10 (41.77%) of women outside the workforce cited family responsibilities as the main reason (versus 2.7% of men).

Social attitudes and a lack of flexible workforce policies were found to reinforce this situation with only 47% of firms in Singapore offer full-time flexibly arrangements.

Additionally, the research observed women in Singapore are more present in lower-paying jobs and less present in high-growth sectors. This leaves them vulnerable to automation, for instance, which is more likely to displace low-paying jobs.

Diaan-Yi Lin, McKinsey’s managing partner for Singapore, said: “As demographic change threatens to put more pressure on women’s family responsibilities and as automation displaces low-skilled jobs, the government and companies can pursue a rich agenda of action to make further progress towards gender parity in Singapore.”

By closing this gap, MGI estimates more than S$26 billion could be added to Singapore’s annual GDP by 2025, or 5% above business-as-usual GDP.

READ MORE: Wise words from 15 women leaders on career success

Five areas to prioritise for gender equality

In line with the research findings, McKinsey highlighted five areas Singapore can prioritise for gender equality. Human Resources translates how employers can contribute.

#1 Invest in shifting attitudes about the role of women in society and work

Singapore could run public-awareness campaigns to foster recognition and redistribution of unpaid care work; and create forums of corporate leaders to share best practices on how to move closer to gender equality.

What this means for employers: Instead of limiting parental leave to just women (maternity leave) – which reinforces the idea that women are the rightful caregivers at home, adopt a gender neutral parental leave. A host of companies have already started adopting the policy done so include Deutsche BankAvivaJohnson & JohnsonSchneider ElectricCIMB Bank, and Facebook.

#2 Increase access to and equal provision or family-friendly policies in the workplace

Singapore could increase the availability of flexitime and tele-working options for full-time workers; develop programmes to ease the transition for mothers to return to work; expand leave options to include family sick leave and elderly-care leave; and make parental leave policies more gender-balanced.

What this means for employers: Implement above mentioned flexible working policies – but not grudgingly. Encourage employees (both male and female) to make use of these policies, and ensure that pay raises and promotions don’t get affected. Have a look at how Telstra does so.

#3 Increase economic incentives for women to remain in the workplace

Companies could audit employee pay to identify gender wage gaps in similar roles and create programmes to close them; the government could create an equal remuneration clause for men and women to hold corporations accountable.

What this means for employers: Employers should ensure that wages are determined solely by performance and not gender. To do so, a concrete and transparent performance management. Another way is to let employees going on maternity leave know what their role will be when they are back like P&G.

READ MORE: Facebook and Microsoft reveal they have closed the gender pay gap

#4 Encourage higher participation of women in STEM fields

This could be achieved through programmes to inspire girls and young women to aspire to such careers; a review of university policies to encourage women into STEM; and adjustment of policies to reduce barriers to women applying for STEM jobs.

What this means for employers: Employers can work with universities or institute of education to reach out and inspire young girls to pursue a career in STEM like what Mastercard is doing, or create support and networking groups such as what women from Citi have come together to do.

#5 Promote skills development for women working in lower-growth sectors and/or lower-paid roles

Singapore could create incentives for women to participate in SkillsFuture; and help provide digital access to women.

What this means for employers: Employers shouldn’t hesitate to invest in corporate training and lifelong learning. Better still, create a learning culture at your organisation.

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