When progressive thought leaders gather at a roundtable discussing about gender equality at the workplace, everyone listens, because it’s not just talk anymore.
On the NTUC U Family’s panel discussion on 9 October sat corporate representatives from Procter & Gamble and CapitaLand as well as subject matter experts from Ministry of Manpower (MOM), ASEAN CSR Network, and Healthcare Services Employees’ Union (HSEU). The power line-up attracted 57 attendees from 39 companies.
Did you know that the female participation in the workforce is almost on par with males from age 20 to 29, but the gap dramatically widens as the age bracket advances?
These insights from the MOM’s Yearbook in Statistics 2018 was highlighted by ASEAN CSR Network Programme Director Lynda Lim, the moderator for the panel discussion.
She said: “There is a leakage in the women talent pipeline. According to a study done by MOM, this is because women tend to juggle between thriving at the workplace and caregiving duties at home. As a result, companies are losing out, losing half of the talent.”
That could be the reason if your company is facing manpower shortage or lacking gender diversity, but not to worry, panellists suggested four ways to remedy the situation.
#1: Unconscious bias needs to end
According to Procter & Gamble Singapore HR Head and Regional Employee Relations Leader Norbert Ehlert, curating the narrative and permeating gender equality into the company’s culture is the crux of doing so.
He explained: “To progress, we need to actively break the myths and expose the sets of assumptions about women that hold us back. Advancing women does not hurt men, gender inequality and myths about women hurt the world.”
Here are some things to bear in mind:
- Confidence: Celebrate the differences between men and women, and not judge them.
- Talent pool: There are plenty of female talents out there. To tap on them, you just have to get creative in your hiring process.
- STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) industries: Stop thinking that tech is a “guy thing”.
- Work-life: Both genders have parenting needs. Employers need to think about benefits for them.
- Harrassment: Be it verbal, emotional, or physical, harassment has to be treated seriously. It cannot be swept under the rug.
#2: “Face Time” is overrated
Norbert added that employers should look at how they can unleash the potential of every individual, even if the person is working from home or in a different time zone. With the internet revolution, he predicts large offices will be obsolete in a few decades as discussions can be held over virtual conferences.
MOM and Ministry of Education Senior Parliamentary Secretary Low Yen Ling agreed and elaborated: “In Asian context, we tend to value face time. The bosses say, ‘I want to see my staff’. As a subordinate, you say, ‘I need to make sure my boss sees me’.
“That says something about our insecurity as a boss and subordinate to perform in our roles. Perhaps, in outlining our workplans, we are not clear about what we are supposed to be achieving. What are the key performance indicators? Do we really need face time to justify our relevance to organisations?”
Ms Low expressed that she is glad to see 880 companies on board the Tripartite Standards for Flexible Work Arrangements since its launch a year ago. Together, the companies hire 350,000 employees.
Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) interested in flexible work arrangements can tap on the Work-Life Grant to help them with the implementation.
#3: HR policies have to cater to every life stage
NTUC Women’s Committee Chairperson and HSEU President K. Thanaletchimi noted that the healthcare sector has been very progressive in meeting the needs of women at different phases of their lives.
- Courtship: SDU leave to encourage singles to go on dates
- Marriage: Five days of marriage leave (above the average)
- Starting a family: All healthcare institutions have lactation rooms for nursing mothers
- Parenthood: Workers can put forth their shift preference
About 50 per cent of the healthcare sector are nurses, and females make up the majority.
Ms Thana also observed that there are still not many SMEs with lactation rooms and there is a lack of awareness why there is a need for them.
“When I visited Sweden, I was very fascinated. It is a country that really appreciates art. One of the law requirements is that whenever a new building is erected, a percentage of the space must be for art. Any building I walked into has paintings and sculptures.
“Certain areas, legislation might work, certain areas persuasion might work. We need to have a combination of carrot and stick approach,” suggested Thana.
#4: Hear your staff out
During the panel discussion, CapitaLand Group’s Corporate Sustainability Vice President Foo Peng Er shared how the company gathered feedback from the ground in the midst of moving to a new office building.
“As part of change management, we asked what is it that they want. We are going to give out rooms for a purpose, meeting rooms, collaboration rooms, and we are going to ask the people who matter. So, the women spoke up. My head of admin was female and she went around asking women to design the nursing rooms,” said Peng Er.
Now, CapitaLand Singapore has six nursing rooms in their office buildings with the following features:
- Soundproof as many employees were embarrassed by the loud pumping
- Tables and powerpoints, so employees can multitask and do work while expressing milk if they wish to
- Online booking system and tap-in-tap-out access
- Dedicated fridge so employees don’t have to worry about contamination
- Cushioned chairs so nursing mothers can comfortably get into the right position
According to Peng Er, the nursing rooms are very popular. The usage stands at 150 per cent, as mothers use them during lunchtime, as well as before and after work.
She said: “These are little thought processes that don’t come by easy. You can’t just give up something. Space is so precious. But when the opportune time comes, have a conversation, do it in a broader context.”
Further, Peng Er advised employers to regularly gather data, track their gender diversity, and follow-up accordingly. As a Group, CapitaLand has 52 per cent female employees. It has 50 per cent female represention at the management level, and 35 per cent at the senior management level.