"Women will be the next engine of growth as they play an ever important role at home and in the workplace ... We need to support women to have both a family and a career, and not have them choose between the two," said Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.
Speaking at EY's Women Fast Forward Breakfast Forum 2015, which was held last week on October 30, Fu shared three ways in which businesses can support women in the workplace.
Firstly, business leaders must foster a pro-family work environment. Examples of initiatives that support this includes longer paid maternity leave, enhanced child care support, and the introduction of paternity leave to encourage greater shared parental responsibility. Funding is also available to encourage companies to roll out flexible work arrangements.
"A pro-family culture does not mean a weaker or less serious corporate culture," said Fu. "It is a change of mindset about having our HR processes and policies wrapped around the needs of employees throughout their life stages."
Secondly, businesses must encourage a more gender-equal society, whereby both men and women play an equally important role in the workplace and at home. This, together with the previous point, is the nexus between our demographic and manpower challenges, and the issue of women in leadership.
Fu believes that women representation in both senior management and boards is not just a numbers game, or for a self-serving purpose. "A meaningful representation of women in the leadership sends a strong signal that the company values women's contribution and views, and is genuine in wanting to cultivate a more women-friendly work environment, whether in recruitment and appointments, training and development or overseas postings," she said.
Improving gender representation in leadership positions also helps to inject diversity in the decision-making process, enabling a more robust decision and outcome. This in turn determines the success of the company in the future.
Beyond the workplace, a more gender equal society must be supported by an ecosystem, where every member of the society celebrates and values family. Fu emphasized that gender equality is not a female issue, nor is it aimed at giving women special treatment. Rather, it is about leveling of the playing field and supporting women to fulfil their career aspirations while enjoying quality family life.
"Singapore faces the challenge of a rapidly ageing and shrinking population, and many adjustments are needed now, including more childcare facilities and more support for families with young children. While we have made progress, we can collectively do more to promote gender equality in businesses, across the entire spectrum of jobs and leadership positions. The corporate sector has an important role to play, and this change has to start from the top," she concluded.
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