Singapore lags behind in female leadership acceptance: study

SCWO CEO Yan Ping Koh confronts gender gap and bias issues in Singaporean society.

Despite significant advances in promoting gender equality, Singapore still lags behind G7 countries in terms of acceptance of women in leadership roles, according to a recent study from the Reykjavik Index for Leadership.

The study’s findings and its implications for the future of gender parity in leadership were clarified by Yan Ping Koh, CEO of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO), in a recent interview with the Singapore Business Review.

Yan Ping asserted that Singapore’s score of 66 on the Reykjavik Index was notably lower than the G7 average of 72, pointing to lingering gender stereotypes and occupational segregation.

However, there is reason to be optimistic, she added. “We do see a lot of outstanding women in Singapore, in various industries, even very male-dominated sectors,” Yan Ping said. We definitely need to share and celebrate these achievements more widely with the whole of society.”

The report also indicated an alarming prevalence of prejudice against women leaders among both men and women in Singapore. This was referred to by Yan Ping as a “potential blind spot” in efforts to promote better representation of women in leadership positions.

She advocated for more awareness and public conversation on this subject to help individuals recognize and overcome such biases. “We definitely need to work a lot more with partners,” she said. “Try to create more awareness to generate more conversations and engagements in the public. So that you know, whether you’re male or female, you recognize that there is such a bias and prejudice that can exist.”

When asked about ways to eradicate gender-based prejudice, Yan Ping proposed a multi-pronged approach. This includes empowering women to call out biases and prejudices, fostering safer and more inclusive workplaces, and promoting caregiving responsibilities among men to challenge traditional gender roles.

She hailed the government’s introduction of the White Paper on Women’s Development, which includes implementing workplace fairness legislation to ensure women feel secure voicing out discrimination.

“We want women to also be more aware of it, and to come out and step up and talk about it, they need to feel that they are safe, they have a safe place and safe environment to have that voice,” Yan Ping stressed.

The study also showed younger Singaporeans — ages 18 to 34 — holding more progressive views on gender equality in leadership. Yan Ping said she sees this as a promising trend that can influence corporate culture in the future.

Her suggestion is for employers to continue to provide a nurturing environment and engage younger employees in discussions on inclusivity and diversity.

Finally, Yan Ping offered practical advice for businesses looking to promote gender equality within leadership ranks. “Companies need to review existing policies and practices for inherent biases and discrimination,” she said.

She recommended training for all management levels to bring attention to unconscious bias in the workplace. “It all starts with yourself because your bias belongs to you. The person that can make immediate change is him or her,” Yan Ping added.

Despite the sobering findings of the Reykjavik Index, Yan Ping’s insights provide a roadmap for a more equal and inclusive future for Singapore’s business community.

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