Commentary: Singapore women have more equal opportunities, but some way to go for equitable outcomes
In Singapore, more women are assuming leadership roles at work and fathers are getting more paternity leave. Beyond equality, we should look to create equity too this International Women’s Day, says Singapore Kindness Movement’s Michelle Tay.
SINGAPORE: Today (Mar 8) is International Women’s Day (IWD). While it is a day to champion women and their achievements, it is also a day to celebrate gender parity.
Imagine a world where there is diversity without bias, inclusivity without discrimination. That’s why this year’s IWD theme is #EmbraceEquity.
We’ve come a long way from calling for equal rights. Equal opportunities aren't enough. People start from different places, so true inclusion requires equitable action. That’s why we should move past advocating for equality and look to create equity instead.
What’s the difference between the two?
Equality gives everyone the same resources. Equity considers our differences first so that there is a fair outcome for all.
Equality focuses on giving everyone the same amount, which may lead to differing results. Equity focuses on giving everyone the correct amount, which aims to reach a similar result.
I spoke with Cassandra Chiu, executive director of K9Assistance, which champions the use of assistance dogs in Singapore, and she told me that it’s about levelling the playing field through kindness.
“(Equity is) giving ourselves the permission to be kind to those around us at work, at home, in the community. It’s about showing others around us the same kindness and respect we would hope for ourselves. That would give every person a fair shot at life,” she said.
Chiu would know, being the one of the first guide dog owners in Singapore and an advocate for guide dogs for more than 10 years.
CREATING EQUITY IN THE WORKPLACE
Ensuring equity at the workplace is tough, but women are making progress at the top.
The latest figures from the Council for Board Diversity revealed that board diversity is gathering momentum across all sectors in Singapore.
More than a third (36 per cent) of director appointments to the boards of the country’s 100 largest companies in 2022 were women. This was higher in statutory boards - 38 per cent. Among first-time directors, women accounted for even more, 45 per cent of the total - another record number.
With a greater diversity of people leading change, there will be opportunities for more conversations to support gender parity at the workplace. This is especially important seeing that more than 6 in 10 women (61.2 per cent) have joined Singapore’s workforce.
That’s why, aside from addressing the gender pay gap, conversations on flexible work arrangements are important to create equity in the workplace. At Singapore Kindness Movement, where the majority of our staff (and half of our executive leadership) are women, we work from home two days each week so that our team members can fulfil their caregiving responsibilities.
FINDING EQUITY AT HOME
The recent doubling of paternity leave in Singapore goes some way towards creating equity. More paternity leave (although at four weeks, it is still less than the 16 weeks currently enjoyed by mothers) ensures that the burden of childcare does not fall solely on working mothers.
As Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said, the government wants “paternal involvement to be the norm in our society and we will stand behind all our fathers who want to play a bigger role in raising our children”.
Of course, more can be done, as AWARE’s executive director Corinna Lim pointed out. For example, more equity could be given to single mothers, who bear a disproportionate share of child-rearing duties without the assistance of another parent, and miss out on some parental benefits such as the Baby Bonus or Working Mother’s Child Relief.
There is equity to be found within family structures as well.
Said Chiu: “We can support one another through kindness and love at home. My father shows me love by cooking my favourite food and checking whether I have enough to eat. I show him love through installing the latest app on his phone and teaching him how to use it!”
Sustainability advocate Aarika Lee, marketing director at Elementary Co and mum of three, said that she and her husband find equity by having open and healthy conversations about what it takes to “run the show” in the workplace and at home.
She said: “It helps that both my husband and I work and are equally hands-on at home. (Our children) learn from a young age not to be defined by gender roles.”
Most importantly, however, finding equity should start with the individual. As a mother of two young children, I sometimes feel guilty about making choices between home and the office, like most working mums do.
I found these five tips helpful: Learn to let go while managing dual roles, focus on self-care, overcome mum’s guilt, be present at home and at work, and most importantly, have conversations with your reporting officer to ensure that expectations and boundaries are met.
EMBRACE YOUR INNER 'SAN BA' THIS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
I recently joked with my team members that since IWD falls on March 8, we should embrace the “san ba” in us to make positive gains for girls and women.
In Mandarin, san ba means the eighth day of the third month - but it is also a pejorative term for a woman who gossips or pries into other people’s business.
But words only have power over us if we let them.
We should reclaim that misogynistic term for good - to “gossip” and spread the word about successes of our women leaders, and to “pry” into the affairs of our fellow women by checking in on them to see how they are doing.
We can all play our part to embrace equity. Let’s use this opportunity to be a little “san ba” to create positive mindsets for girls today, and equitable systems for women tomorrow.
Michelle Tay is Head of Partnerships at the Singapore Kindness Movement.