Celebrating women with empowering conversations

Singapore is moving steadily towards gender equality - marked by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 which found that the country has moved up 13 positions from 2019 to rank 54th globally, and fifth in the East Asia and Pacific region.

Nonetheless, more remains to be done in order to reach a state of gender parity. Two recent discussions at NUS highlighted that the way forward includes a societal mindset shift; and for workplaces to play a bigger role in improving inclusiveness.

The 38th edition of the Tembusu Forum, held during International Women’s Day on 8 March, debated the topic of ‘Women in Singapore: Equality, Justice and Respect’. The discussion was moderated by NUS Tembusu College Rector Professor Tommy Koh and panellists included Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Law; Ms Junie Foo, President of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO); and Ms Corinna Lim, Executive Director at the Association of Women for Action and Research.

In his opening address at the forum, Mr Shanmugam stressed that equality and respect can be better ingrained in Singapore society. He added that while Singapore performed well in increasing the level of female education, it remains a work in progress for areas such as supporting women who juggle the multiple roles of adult life.

Although the Women’s Charter established in 1961 was progressive for its time; gender equity is not a core value of Singapore in the way that multiculturalism is, Ms Lim noted in her speech.

Ms Foo added, "There are still some aspects of gender issues that we have to come to grips with.” She shared that SCWO has pushed for more women on company boards since 2011, but Singapore sees less than 20 percent of women in these key leadership positions.

All panellists concurred that a societal mindset shift was crucial for Singapore to advance in her journey towards greater gender equality.

Women of W – wonder, wisdom, wealth of experience

In the same week, the Women of Wonder In Conversation (WoW) session organised by the NUS Office of Alumni Relations continued the discussion on gender parity with the topic ‘Gender Diversity and Inclusion in the Workforce’. The session was moderated by NUS Alumni Advisory Board member and WoW founder, Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (NUS Science ’98, NUS Public Policy ’08).

Guest of Honour and panellist at the 10 March session, Mrs Josephine Teo (NUS Arts and Social Sciences ’90), Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, noted that the digitalisation of businesses required women to find time and opportunity to train and upskill, in order to remain relevant in the workforce.

"I think it is more difficult for women because apart from work commitments, quite often they juggle many hats,” said Mrs Teo. She added that Singapore’s board representation for women, currently at 16 percent, can be further improved.

Speaking on the financial impact of female representation in leadership roles, Ms Lyn Lee (NUS Arts and Social Sciences ’89), Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Royal Dutch Shell, said that organisations with more senior level women tend to see above average business performance. Ms Georgette Tan (NUS Arts and Social Sciences ’82), President of United Women Singapore; and Dr Vandana Ramachandran (NUS Science (PhD) ’03), Co-Founder of Singapore Women in Science; affirmed that the push for gender balanced boards has to be initiated by companies.

In closing, the panellists emphasised the importance of having visible female role models in Singapore, and advocating mentorship in the workplace.