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Panel discussion: Achieving gender parity in the workforce

Zafirah Salim | Nov. 6, 2015
At the recently-concluded EY's Women Fast Forward Breakfast Forum 2015, EY led a panel discussion with business leaders to discuss the current gender landscape in the corporate world, recommending ways on accelerating women’s progress in the workforce.

In fact, Yong said that the Public Service does not have gender parity as a goal. Rather, its stated position is meritocracy, equal opportunity and no discrimination. As such, it strongly regards diversity as a talent search objective. To the Public Service, diversity and inclusiveness is not solely about gender, but it is also about the diversity of background, ethnicity and the networks and connections of an individual. 

In the Public Service, more than half (53%) of its workforce are made up of women. Additionally, 43% are "super scale officers" - which Yong defines as leaders, managers, or decision-makers in the business. Yong emphasized that these women are all appointed by merit, and not by quotas and targets.

This is however not the case for the general workforce landscape in Singapore. According to Christopher Wong, Deputy Assurance Leader, EY, the percentage of women in senior leadership roles are very poor; and he feels that getting women to the forefront has always been a major challenge.

"At EY, we hire primarily university graduates - those from accounting or business disciplines. Since these disciplines are popular with females, we also end up hiring more female workers," said Wong. "However, most women fail to reach a senior management position within the company (usually 8 to 10 years of working experience) because once they reach the fifth or sixth year, they begin to start a family - that's when we see them struggling and having to make a choice between family and career."

To counter this issue, Wong advises business leaders to take a personal ownership to the issue. Also referred to as "sponsorship culture", this means that as soon as high-performance females are identified, managers have to pay special attention them and go out of their way to help them resolve any issues.

Commenting further on this, Lee added that we have to instill a change in mindset in everyone, especially men, because they have to be "allies" to the females.

A supporting work environment

Beyond implementing pro-family work programmes and policies, companies need to ensure that employees feel that they can take advantage of it, said Lauraine Riley, Vice President of Finance, IBM Asia Pacific.

"We need to connect with our employees and make sure that we understand their situations, showing our support. I have extended enablement to my employees to manage work-life balance... and I have never been disappointed with the returns. It is all about trade-offs and balance, and it lies in the idea of being flexible and understanding at the executive or mid-management level," she added. "Employees should never feel that their commitment to the company is challenged, or feel like it was a bad call to put their family ahead of work."


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