SINGAPORE: If there’s one piece of advice I could give to women everywhere, it’s to voice workplace concerns to their bosses and harbour more self-belief.
Women across the world are failing to speak out, negotiate for themselves or make demands of their companies, out of fear of causing career chaos.
Coupled with other structural factors that disadvantage women, this entrenches a labour market characterised by lower participation, higher unemployment and persistent wage gaps for women.
What this also means is that there are less women at the decision-making table in corporations - with adverse impact for companies, sectors and entire economies where women are less represented.
OVERLOOKED AND UNDERPAID
According to the report launched by the Human Capital Leadership Institute and BoardAgender, women in Singapore occupy over just 10 percent of board seats despite making up nearly half the labour force.
A report by the Ministry of Manpower also revealed that women in Singapore are on average paid at least 10 per cent less than men for doing the same job in most sectors.
It is a two-way street we need to encourage. If we want more women to progress into leadership roles eventually, we need CEOs to support those voices and welcome feedback.
Many women fail to speak out when they are overlooked for promotions and lack confidence to say whether they are actually happy in the workplace. Females who speak out and climb the ladder tend to be viewed as abrasive. By not speaking out, women are failing to avail of higher positions, yet equality is a necessity in the workplace.
Women in Singapore are still seen as the heart of the household and are expected to carry out the majority of housework and be key childminders. This is despite figures from the Labour Force in Singapore Advance Release 2016 which demonstrate the employment rate for females aged 25 to 64 in 2016 was 80.3 percent.
A DIFFERENT WORKPLACE
Studies have shown that men and women experience workplace outcomes very differently, with men often securing more promotions, challenging assignments and having more access to top leaders, compared to women.
Women on the other hand, rather unfairly tend to hit more stumbling blocks on their journey to the top of the career ladder – and most of them feel these obstacles keenly. Just look at figures from the Women in the Workplace 2017 report by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co.
The study shows less than half of women feel the best opportunities go to the most deserving employees and believe that promotions are awarded fairly.
A significant proportion of women also feel gender is to blame when it comes to missing those all important raises and promotions. More worryingly, even more women believe their gender will make it hard for them to advance in the future.
This common fear which needs to be addressed is mainly felt by women at senior levels.
To address this common fear requires leadership to play a role. Time and time again, corporate leaders need to remind all around them that the workplace should not be a “his or hers” experience but rather an “us” occurrence – and all the more so when female representation at the top echelon of companies remains paltry.
Although the Code of Corporate Governance in Singapore requires companies to consider diversity as part of board nomination processes, the number of women on boards of listed companies in Singapore in particular compared to other key markets remains extremely low. These concerning figures show no sign of increasing if women continue lacking confidence or harbouring dissatisfaction.
It could only be for the greater good that more females make their mark in the workplace. When more women are given equal opportunities, whether to represent companies at the top or given access to resources to start their own, there are massive benefits for companies and the economy.
Recent figures from Facebook indicate that having more female business leaders in Singapore could result in thousands of new opportunities. A Facebook study revealed that if 14 per cent of women who said they were “very likely” to start a business actually went through with it, 42,700 new businesses would be created in addition to 178,000 jobs by the end of 2021.
Back to corporate leadership representation, other figures from the Women in the Workplace 2017 by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co report show that in today's workforce, women make up 46 per cent of a company’s entry-level group but only a handful, if any, make it to the C-Suite.
Another study by the Wall Street Journal found that men are 30 per cent more likely than women to be promoted to management roles, and move up the ladder in larger numbers, with women holding under a quarter of senior leadership positions and less than one-fifth of C-suite roles.
Might it be that women are taking rejection and the lack of progression up the corporate chain lightly? Do women really aspire less than men to rise to the top?
I believe the issue lies in low awareness about the importance and benefits of gender diversity on boards and a lack of belief felt among women in their own abilities.
COMPANY LEADERS MUST BE EDUCATED
Another problematic issue is education for leadership - especially when so many business leaders claim women lack qualifications or requirements needed to assume directorship positions.
There is also this clouded perception that the pool of female talent at the top is limited due to women having children and raising families – and taking time away from work to meet their familial commitments.
Of course we play important roles as wives and mothers but let’s get real, that shouldn’t mean our career clock stops ticking. The most ambitious, career-minded and capable of us will stop at nothing to get to the top.
So a comfortable balance needs to be uncovered between male and female leaders, and opportunities to progress need to be given to both sexes.
Globally, women have become more confident with greater awareness of the benefits of gender equality and as inequality in the workplace has rightly been brought under the spotlight.
Inequality in the office is changing and we can continue to ensure it does so through putting ourselves forward and being more “out there”. Microsoft and Facebook are two prime examples of multinationals embracing female leaders through growing mentorship and training programmes.
Microsoft has also developed a partnership with gender equality organisations like the Anita Borg Institute, to provide fellowships and bolster initiatives support women in technology.
On our parts, by speaking out, women can signal that they do not accept a predetermined workplace fate based on gender and shape their organisations for the better. It’s time for women to embrace their talents and push for opportunities to progress.
Genecia Alluora is founder of Soul Rich Woman, a network of female entrepreneurs.