Firms’ HR policies ‘should not work against women’

March 21, 201610:03 am486 views

Stressing that the drive for gender equality cannot be just lip service, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said employers must ensure that human resource policies and practices do not work against women.

Speaking at an exhibition and seminar promoting lifelong learning among women yesterday, Mr Ong said more women today face real dilemmas and challenges in juggling their family and career responsibilities.

“I see many friends and colleagues struggle with this. Often it is the mother who decides to make difficult choices in her career for the sake of her children and family,” he said at the event held at the Lifelong Learning Institute.

“All of us — men, women, society at large — have a duty to help women juggle competing responsibilities.”

To that end, he said husbands need to help out in the household, including taking care of babies, and employers must be supportive of mothers.

Mr Ong pointed out that job criteria for high-level assignments or senior leadership positions often ask for attributes such as being assertive, outgoing, results-focused and dynamic.

But employers need to also value qualities such as being nurturing and having empathy, patience and thoughtfulness.

He added that organisations must look for fairer criteria in evaluating a person’s capabilities, noting that placing an age requirement in career development schemes, for example, may be unfair to women who decide to take time off to start a family.

Mr Ong said that over the years, women have made great strides in leadership and labour participation rates.

He cited South Korea President Park Geun-hye, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde and General Motors chief executive officer Mary Barra as examples of women in power. In popular culture, there are Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games series and how Harry Potter gets help from Hermione in looking for the Hocruxes.

Singapore has several examples too, said Mr Ong, citing Singtel chief Chua Sock Koong, acclaimed fashion designer Priscilla Shunmugam and more women choosing to join the military.

In the political sphere, the number of elected MPs who are women has also doubled since the early 2000s, with both the Speaker of Parliament and Leader of the House posts being held by women.

Nevertheless, said Mr Ong, there is a gap between men and women that is “very difficult to close”.

He urged society to hold two thoughts when gender issues are discussed: Equality of respect, recognition and opportunities; and understanding that there are differences between men and women in the way they think, analyse, feel, empathise and make decisions.

Calling for all to step up to make the United Nations’ theme for this year’s International Women’s Day — Planet 50:50 by 2030 — come true, Mr Ong said: “In Singapore, we are a great respecter of women. We place great emphasis on education and development because people are our capital. That is really the only reason such a tiny country gets to play on the world stage.”

He added: “We all have a duty to help women live a full life — for themselves, as well as for the good of society at large.”

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