SINGAPORE (Oct 31): Gender disparity in Singapore’s workplace has yet to become a thing of the past. At least, that is how 63% of the city state’s respondents to the Women in Leadership in Asia Pacific report see it.

The recent study was jointly developed by Willis Towers Watson and The Economist Corporate Network, and its results were presented and discussed at a diversity event at The Arts House on Oct 27.

Even with nationwide policies and programmes aiming to drive gender equality in the workplace, Singapore’s respondents displayed the strongest perception in Asia Pacific (APAC) that a glass ceiling still exists to hold women back in the workplace.

Notably less than half of China (46%), Kuala Lumpur (45%) and Hong Kong (36%) based respondents felt the same.

“There is a limit to what policies, legislation and schemes alone can do as we require a whole-of-society effort to help women balance work and family,” said Halimah Yacob, Speaker of Parliament and MP for Marsilling Yew-Tee GRC, who was also the guest of honour at the event.

One such example is the take-up rate of ‘flexi-hour’ work arrangements, says Yacob, who believes many women are still reluctant to take advantage of for fear of “being seen as less hardworking or less committed to the job”.

Based on the report’s findings, 80% of Singapore’s companies offer flexi-work options such as telecommuting. But according to respondents, no more than 20% of their employees are deemed to take advantage of this benefit.

Furthermore, the report indicates that Singapore-based discussants were unanimous in asserting that the promotional path in the local corporate culture remains biased towards conventional quantitative measures. These include working long, in-office hours as well as participation in collective social activities taking place after work.  

What then should Singapore’s companies being doing to bring about change in this respect?

1. Promote gender diversity
Willis Towers Watson highlights the importance in fostering a culture of gender diversity to recognise where the gaps are, before finding ways to address these through programmes for employees at all levels.

Says Sirikit Oh, the company’s managing director and Asia head of technology, media and telecommunications industry: “Gender diversity affirms the roles and contributions our female colleagues play in the workplace, and also shows them that their aspirations and dreams are equally as important as their male counterparts.”

“Diversity loses its power without inclusion. The extent to which all employees feel that they belong, and are free to contribute their talent and achieve their personal goals at work,” she adds.  

2. Establish role models
The absence of the female gender’s visibility and office-level presence creates a perceived lack of female leadership. 56% and 44% of the Singapore respondents say a lack of confidence and exclusion from power circles were key factors inhibiting women from achieving leadership positions, respectively.

At the same time, 74% agreed that a driver of successful advancement is the availability of sponsors or mentors for female leadership candidates. As such, Willis Towers Watson recommends that women in senior positions begin taking on a more pro-active, hands-on approach while making a conscious effort to increase their visibility.

3. Measure progress to gain perspective
According to Willis Towers Watson, quotas and metrics should be introduced to measure gender diversity issues and programmes such that gender gaps can be identified and addressed along the way. For instance, to encourage the availability and visibility of female sponsors and mentors, employers can include these aspects as key performance indicators (KPIs) for their leaders, says the firm.

“There are structures in place in Singapore that support [gender diversity],” comments Mira Gajraj Mohan, practice director, talent management & organisation alignment, APAC, for Willis Towers Watson.

“It is a matter of individuals – especially those in leadership [positions] – taking a stance to make things happen, to advocate and encourage change and proactive act as mentors.”