Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng, CEO of the Science Centre Singapore, has explained the ‘sexist’ comments he was accused of making earlier this year regarding women and leadership.
Earlier this month, Lim was announced as a finalist for women’s activist group AWARE’s annual ‘awards’, which call out comments or advertisements the organisation deems to be sexist.
In these awards – dubbed the Alamak! Awards – the associate professor was nominated thanks to comments he made in an email he sent out to staff on International Women’s Day.
After Human Resources ran the article, Lim apologised, saying his “objective was to contextualise how women have been discriminated over time across cultures and I wanted to motivate and challenge my fellow colleagues to break the shackles of any stereotype and emerge a winner that they all can be.”
Speaking again about the comments, Lim said his words were meant to be “reflective”.
“The letter was written the day after our staff barbecue where someone played old Chinese songs on the erhu,” Lim said. “So I started to recall how in those songs, boys would tease the girls, girls would tease the boys. I was trying to put this in a historical perspective, that there has always been this tussle between male and female in society.
“And then my intention was to say that in the Science Centre, there are more females than males in the leadership. So, if I were to look at succession planning, the chances of getting a woman to take on a higher role is already higher statistically. I wanted to first pay tribute to our female staff and at the same time challenge them. There is no glass ceiling.”
While the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sectors have been making progress in boosting female representation and recognition, Lim believes the headway is “not quite fast enough”.
“There is clearly more work to be done to improve how we recognise and encourage the uptake of STEM as a career among women,” Lim said.
“One way for the STEM sector to close this gap would be to send the right and accurate impressions among practitioners, employees and the broader public, and help them better appreciate that women make great rock star scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.”
Lim currently co-chairs the Singapore Science Festival (SSF), which hit its 14th year on July 18. This year’s SSF also boasted a musical called “Sex Cells”, which was aimed at helping the public not only appreciate the miracle of the human reproductive process, but also recognise and pay tribute to women and motherhood.
“While this only presents one facet of the pivotal role of women in the family, the festival hopes to celebrate the other facets of women in academia, research and careers in STEM,” Lim said.
“I firmly believe that when we celebrate the successes of women – whether one is a budding researcher or a rock star scientist – we will encourage more women who are aspiring a career in STEM, to take a step forward, join our movement, and shoot for the stars.”