According to Singapore’s inaugural findings from Kantar Public’s Reykjavik Index for Leadership 2022/2023, only 30% of respondents in Singapore are very comfortable with a woman being Head of Government, Minister, or CEO of a major company.
To get more insight into the report, we spoke with Koh Yan Ping, CEO of Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO). In her role, Koh provides strategic direction and leads the organization to fulfill its vision and mission to achieve Equal Space, Equal Voice, and Equal Worth for women in Singapore.
Over the course of our conversation she talks about the report’s findings, the work SCWO does in Singapore, the current state of management representation, what brands can do to address inequality, and more.
The goal of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations is to achieve Equal Space, Equal Voice, and Equal Worth for women in Singapore. Tell us more about that and its efforts to reach these goals.
SCWO is the national coordinating body of women’s organisations in Singapore since 1980, and we currently have more than 60 member organisations and represent over 600,000 women. Together with our member organisations, our goal is to reduce and ultimately, eliminate gender inequalities.
“The research helps us to understand the underlying prejudice that continues to surround female leadership, and these figures and statistics provide essential insights in decision making to shape public policy and create a better, fairer society.”
The ideals of Equal Space, Equal Voice and Equal Worth forms the key focus areas for SCWO, and we champion many initiatives to achieve them.
- Equal Space – To allow women to feel safe wherever they are and be free from discrimination, harassment and violence. We provide support to women in distress through direct services which include Star Shelter, Maintenance Support Central and SheCares@SCWO. These direct services offer victims and survivors of family violence, online harms and women facing financial abuse an avenue for help.
- Equal Voice – To have equal representation of women in leadership. Our flagship initiative, BoardAgender Mentorship Programme provides aspiring next-generation female directors with the opportunity to develop as directors and understand their unique value to boards.
- Equal Worth – To fully recognise the value of women’s contributions to society, family and the workplace. We inspire and empower women and girls to pursue their dreams through the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame, where we celebrate the achievements and contributions of outstanding women in their fields. Project Awesome is an extension of the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame where we share the stories of these awesome women in schools to inspire youth.
According to recent research, about 30% of respondents in Singapore said they are very comfortable with a woman being the Head of Government, Minister, or CEO of a major company. Tell us more about this and how this compares to biases in Singapore historically.
We recently organised an Engagement Forum and Workshop with the launch of Singapore’s first-ever findings of gendered leadership within the Reykjavik Index for Leadership 2022 – 2023, in collaboration with global policy advisory firm Kantar Public. The Index was first launched in 2018 by Kantar Public and Women Political Leaders, and measures how society views men and women in terms of their suitability for leadership.
Marking the start of an illustrious collaboration between SCWO and Kantar Public, the Engagement Forum and Workshop discussed Singapore’s inaugural findings within the Index, with SCWO pioneering insights and charting future plans to increase women representation in leadership positions. Findings within the report underscore the importance of partnerships with strategic partners like Kantar Public, as the research helps us to understand the underlying prejudice that continues to surround female leadership, and these figures and statistics provide essential insights in decision making to shape public policy and create a better, fairer society.
There has been increasing awareness and attention on the need for a more equitable representation of women in leadership positions in recent years. The White Paper also calls for persistent efforts on mindset change and addressing gender stereotypes. The Index thus confirms this, with only 30% of respondents reported being very comfortable with a woman being Head of Government, Minister, or CEO of a major or SME company.
This data speaks to the entrenched gender stereotypes that have historically been passed down from one generation to the next and still continues to inform people’s biases on women as leaders. Generations after generations, both men and women have seen the various women in our lives, from our mothers or aunts, playing certain traditional roles at work in the larger community. This perpetuates long-held gender stereotypes about women, their roles, leadership capabilities, and the work they’re suited to.
In terms of women holding leadership positions in the corporate world, what does the data say about current management representation in Singapore?
It is notable that the percentage of women on boards of Top 100 SGX companies have increased almost three-fold since 2014 to 21.5% in 2022, indicating an increase in awareness and addressing gender parity in leadership positions. Having said this, more efforts are required to generate greater awareness and to drive mindset change among both genders and the younger generation.
In fact, the Index identifies that women are perceived to be better suited to leadership in traditionally female-dominated industries like Childcare (52%), Fashion and Beauty (42%), Education (27%) and Healthcare (26%), rather than industries like Technology and Artificial Intelligence (5%), Engineering (4%), and Government and Politics (5%). This suggests that preconceived notions continue to exist within specific industries, and such findings of occupational segregation could mean that women are also prejudiced against themselves, largely deviating from careers that are based on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
“It is notable that the percentage of women on boards of Top 100 SGX companies have increased almost three-fold since 2014 to 21.5% in 2022, indicating an increase in awareness and addressing gender parity in leadership positions.”
As such, programmes such as BoardAgender continue to be vital in building a pipeline of board-ready women to lead tomorrow’s organisations, across a broad range of industries including traditionally more male-dominated ones. It connects female mentees with mentors, male or female, in senior leadership positions and industry leaders. The latter are mentors who advise and support the younger women as they build their careers, directly influencing greater female representation in boardrooms. With more women representation in management in these industries, it will bring attention to the unique value that women can bring to these fields and continue to dispel gendered perceptions of suitability to certain work.
Were there any findings in the report that surprised you?
It’s heartening to see that the trajectory for the future of gender parity in Singapore is increasingly positive. While most countries saw younger populations having a more serious stereotype of women being in leadership, respondents here between 18 to 34 held a more progressive view over gender equality in leadership. It’s a positive sign that over the past decades, our efforts to reach out to the youth has yielded positive results that we can see today.
This only reinforces the importance and impact of our youth outreach programs such as Project Awesome.
The project brings inspirational stories of women from the Singapore Hall of Fame to schools to inspire youth and mould a future generation of Singaporeans that embraces gender equity, creating a society where both men and women can thrive.
The report noted that 62% of women hold prejudices against women leaders while men were at 71%. Can you talk more about that what’s behind the numbers?
It’s interesting to note that there was a very small difference between women & men having this perception – just 9%. This may be a blind spot in current efforts that we need to address, especially in the way we’ve been advocating for more women in leadership positions. It’s evident from the data that biases – be it conscious or unconscious – exist not just for men but women as well, and we cannot assume that women would naturally be more accepting of women leaders. Women, just like their male counterparts, have also been shaped by the same generational stereotypes about traditional gender roles.
The bias women have towards women leadership could also reflect the self-doubt that women face, holding them back from rising up the ranks. This may be one of the factors that explain why there are still less women in leadership positions as compared to men despite the various programs and policies in place to advance this cause. These further evidences the need to spotlight and celebrate achievements by women, especially in traditionally male-dominated fields like technology, engineering, government and politics, through avenues like Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame, which would serve to boost the visibility of women’s accomplishments in these sectors and change perceptions accordingly – among both women and men.
“The bias women have towards women leadership could also reflect the self-doubt that women face, holding them back from rising up the ranks. This may be one of the factors that explain why there are still less women in leadership positions as compared to men despite the various programs and policies in place to advance this cause.”
More and more consumers are looking to brands to lead the way for social change. How do you think brands in Singapore are doing in this role?
Indeed, more consumers are looking to brands to lead the way for social change – notably, in terms of gender, diversity and inclusion. In a recent survey carried out by Integral Ad Science among Singapore consumers, 78% of consumers in Singapore care about diversity and inclusion (D&I) and want to do more to help promote D&I. Additionally, 55% of consumers have changed their shopping habits to help support these causes. All in all, we are observing increasing awareness among consumers about how their behaviours impact the society we live in.
In the same vein, more can be done in the realm of marrying the cause for women’s development and brands as we also continue to raise awareness about the efforts that society can engage in to pave the way for gender equality. For instance, SCWO’s New2U Thrift Shop does just that. It accepts donations of pre-loved items from the public and corporates, with all proceeds from the sale of these items going towards women under our care who are victims of domestic violence, women who require marital and child support and supporting our efforts to achieve gender equality.
With this, not only are shoppers helping to provide a safe space for women and girls as well as supporting the cause for gender equality, but also creating an environmentally friendly impact through the circular economy.
We have also seen a rise in the number of private organisations who have stepped forward to support SCWO through sponsorships, donations and volunteering. For example, Standard Chartered had made a public commitment to dedicate 360 volunteering hours with SCWO this year and their employees would help out with the New2U Thrift Shop operations on weekends.
What advice do you have for brands on how they can better support greater gender equality both inwardly and outwardly?
Inwardly, creating an inclusive and equitable workplace environment would help to support gender equality. Companies could implement polices to ensure workplace fairness, including strengthening of protection against workplace discrimination. Educating internal teams through workshops to be mindful of unconscious biases and microaggressions would also be helpful.
“Normalising men as caregivers is also important, and encouraging men to utilise their paternity leave and fighting the stigma around men as caregivers should also be prioritized and would go a long way in breaking gender stereotypes.”
Additionally, creating an environment that encourages men to contribute more to caregiving duties would make a significant impact in supporting gender equality. Women by and large still shoulder the burden of dual roles – shouldering most of the caregiving responsibilities at home, as well as working full-time.
To mitigate this, companies can institute Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) as the norm for all employees. Allowing employees to tap on FWAs not only allows women and working mothers a greater ability to participate fully in work, it also allows fathers and men to share the caregiving responsibilities with their wives and female family members, and alleviate the stresses that many women face juggling work and caregiving duties.
Normalising men as caregivers is also important, and encouraging men to utilise their paternity leave and fighting the stigma around men as caregivers should also be prioritized and would go a long way in breaking gender stereotypes.
In the same vein as SCWO’s efforts for greater women representation in boards with BoardAgender, brands can also continue to uplift women through targeted mentorship programmes or training programmes for young female professionals in their organisations and providing resources for them to thrive at work. Despite the emphasis on women, getting men involved in the initiatives and building a community of male allies is also a key component in creating an equitable society.
Outwardly, similar to the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame, brands can publish stories to recognise and acknowledge women leaders in their organisations as well as their accomplishments. Showcasing inspiring women’s expertise and achievements would champion women’s capabilities and commitment to their work and challenge deeply-ingrained limiting beliefs about women not leading and contributing to their field.
Supporting and partnering non-profit organisations or charities that work with women is another way for brands to show their support for gender equality. We have increasingly seen more brands launching campaigns, promotions and activities during March to celebrate International Women’s Day. While it is heartening to have greater level of support during this period, we hope that more brands would embark on a longer term partnership with organisations like SCWO to create sustainable impact.