After 160 conversations with nearly 6,000 Singaporeans (men and women), the White Paper On Singapore Women’s Development was released in April 2022. This white paper charts out the various action plans to better support Singapore women.
In particular, the workplace is an area where more can be done to support women by building fairer, more inclusive and progressive workplaces.
Here’s why employers should care about the White Paper On Singapore Women’s Development and how it actually benefits not just women but all workers.
Read Also: Is The Gender Pay Gap Real In Singapore?
Enshrining The Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices In Law Benefits All Workers
While women today enjoy much more career mobility than our previous generations, women still face greater barriers than men in (some) workplaces.
One of the recommended actions of the White Paper is legislation on workplace fairness.
This is already in the works as Singapore moves to enshrine the existing Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP) in law. This will add teeth to the TGFEP as stricter enforcement and penalties may be imposed on unfair workplaces.
This move has wide-reaching impact on employers and employees, not just women. The change from guidelines to legislation means that the current penalties (e.g. disallowing companies to hire more foreign workers) may become stricter, such as the imposition of fines.
While this is a recommendation under the White Paper For Singapore Women’s Development, the move to legislate the guidelines has been announced during the National Day Rally 2021 and would benefit all workers.
Protection When Reporting Workplace Grievances Including Harassment And Discrimination Extends Beyond Gender
Another aspect that the white paper recommends as part of workplace fairness is the strengthening of protection when reporting workplace grievances. This includes requiring employers to implement grievance handling procedures, protecting the confidentiality of the persons reporting workplace harassment or discrimination and prohibiting retaliation against employees who come forward to report.
This protection extends beyond women who may be unfairly discriminated against (e.g. due to pregnancy) to other groups who may face discrimination (e.g. minority groups, persons with disabilities). This protection may be said to be long overdue as the fear of retaliation is a cause of the underreporting of many workplace harassment or discrimination.
Flexible Working Arrangements (FWAs) Benefit All Employees
The White Paper also outlines the action plan to introduce new Tripartite Guidelines on FWAs by 2024 to require employers to consider FWA requests fairly and properly. This will enable women to participate more fully in the workplace. Today, employers of about 880,000 (27%) employees have already adopted the voluntary Tripartite Standard on FWAs and this is going to be extended to about 40% of all employees by end of 2022.
While having guidelines and standards are useful to guide employers in implementation and create a common language for employers to use, the truth is that the pandemic has forced the hands of many businesses. According to the White Paper, the proportion of employees who were working in establishments offering at least one FWA on a regular and sustained basis increased from 65% in 2015 to 86% in 2020. 73% of companies that offered FWAs indicated that they were likely to continue doing so post-COVID-19.
The prevalence of flexible working arrangements (FWAs) is likely to continue post-pandemic and businesses would be tone-deaf to ignore this change in workers’ expectations.
Encouraging Greater Utilisation Of Parental Leave Entitlements Benefits Both Mothers And Fathers
While mothers tend to take on the heavier load of childcare and household care, Singapore’s parental leave entitlements provide for both maternity and paternity leave.
Working mothers are entitled to 16 weeks of Government-Paid Maternity Leave (GPML) while working fathers are given 2 weeks of paternity leave. Working mother can also share a minimum of one week and up to four weeks of her maternity leave with the working father under the Government-Paid Shared Parental Leave (SPL) scheme.
To encourage employers to support parents’ caregiving responsibilities, the Public Service is taking the lead by encouraging the greater utilisation of parental leave. This includes actively encouraging eligible public officers to take all their parental leave within the first year of their child’s birth and extending the consumption period for Additional Unpaid Infant Care Leave from the first year to the first two years of their child’s birth.
Encouraging working fathers to utilise their leave helps set the foundation for a more equal distribution of responsibilities. However, more can be done to support working mothers. The fact remains that women disproportionately shoulder the load of childcare, even beyond the first few years of their child’s birth.
Developing Career Mentorship, Networking Opportunities And Training Programmes Specific To Women
The White Paper On Singapore Women’s Development also outlines the plan to develop career mentorship, networking opportunities and training programmes for women at work and re-entering the workforce.
Examples of this includes the Singapore Women Entrepreneurs Network (SGWEN) by the Singapore Business Federation, a Mentoring Programme by the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations’ BoardAgender initiative and NTUC U Women and Family’s community mentoring programme. MOM and WSG will also strengthen their partnerships with women’s organisations to increase outreach and support.
This is a positive step in both acknowledging and closing the gap in such career mentorship and networking opportunities. However, it has to overcome the issue where there are fewer female role models in leadership or senior positions to guide and mentor.
Supporting Greater Board Diversity In Companies Goes Beyond Gender
To help facilitate greater representation of women in leadership roles, listed companies will be required to disclose their board diversity policy from 1 January 2022 under the revised SGX Listing Rules. Companies will have to disclose their targets for achieving the stipulated diversity (including gender, skill, experience and other relevant aspects of diversity) and their action plans and timelines.
The Council for Board Diversity (CBD) will also engage stakeholders on the appointment of women onto boards, carries out activities to raise public awareness of the importance of board diversity through having women directors, and works with partners to develop a pipeline of board-ready women.
This is a positive for both women as well as other underrepresented groups (e.g. minority groups). Board diversity is not just about including candidates of a different gender but also people of different backgrounds and experience to provide a different perspective and minimise group-think or the “old boy’s network” effect.
Building An Inclusive Workplace Is Important But Are We Doing Enough To Support Women In The Workplace?
According to MOM’s “Singapore’s Adjusted Gender Pay Gap” report, occupational segregation is the key driver of the gender pay gap. This is where women tend to be over-represented in lower paying occupations (e.g. general office clerks) and men in higher paying ones (e.g. chief executives and general managers).
The unpaid cost of care also affects women’s ability to progress in the workplace. Women are at least 4 times more likely than men to be responsible for managing housework and caregiving duties. This is worse in dual-income households where women are five times as likely than men to do so. Women were also nearly four times as likely than men to have left their jobs due to caregiving responsibilities, based on the findings of the survey on Women’s Development.
While the efforts to build an inclusive workplace is important to support women, it will take a societal change to truly make women equals in the workplace. More support systems need to be in place to enable women to work without juggling household care needs (or at least be more equally distributed between the genders). Societal gendered expectations need to be adjusted for girls to seek out career paths in traditionally male-dominated industries (which also tend to be higher paying) in order to overcome occupational segregation.
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