How do Singapore women perceive the gender gap?

How do Singapore women perceive the gender gap?
Laurel West, Editorial Director, Thought Leadership, Asia, The Economist Intelligence Unit; Lynette Leong, Chief Executive Officer, CapitaLand Commercial Trust; Susi Pudjiastuti, Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Republic of Indonesia; Graeme Harlow, Managing Director, South-East Asia, Diageo.
PHOTO: HSBC Singapore

The perception of a gender gap is highest among female executives in Singapore compared with their peers in Indonesia and Malaysia.

A new survey has found that 56 per cent of Singapore professional women believe females are under- represented in senior management while the figure was 44 per cent in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Singapore respondents estimated that only 26 per cent of senior executives in their companies were women compared with 32 per cent in Malaysia and 34 per cent in Indonesia.

The survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit was sponsored by HSBC Singapore and polled 300 female executives in December - 100 each from Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

HSBC Singapore chief executive Guy Harvey-Samuel said in a statement: "It is clearly incumbent on all of us at a senior level in the corporate world, whether male or female, to continue to work hard on mentoring and providing equal opportunities for all our female colleagues."

Half of those polled work in middle management roles, the rest in senior management positions.

Women professionals in the three countries also believed they had to work harder to get equal recognition, something more keenly felt among mid-level workers.

Half of the Singapore women polled said they had to do more than their male co-workers to receive comparable recognition, lower than the 58 per cent in Indonesia and 59 per cent in Malaysia.

The survey also found that 55 per cent of mid-level workers believe child rearing would affect their career ambitions, while 41 per cent of senior executives felt this was so.

However, it noted that most senior professionals do not see gender equality as part of their formal responsibilities.

About 69 per cent of the female executives believed it was important to give advice and training to women on specific leadership skills, but only 16 per cent said they view this as part of their job.

Singapore women - particularly those at senior levels - are more likely to focus on their own career progression rather than the broader gender diversity issue.

The survey found that 69 per cent of senior women professionals in Malaysia and 74 per cent in Indonesia felt it was their responsibility to help other women, compared with 54 per cent in Singapore.

More leadership training and greater support and recognition for women would promote greater gender diversity, the survey respondents noted.

These findings resonated with women business leaders who shared their experiences of dealing with gender stereotypes at the HSBC Women Leaders' Forum 2016 yesterday.

CapitaLand Commercial Trust chief executive Lynette Leong said: "I used to run an office in South Korea. There were times when I went into meetings and people thought I was the secretary. I found it very funny."

Considering that men may not want to feel they have been opposed in the boardroom, she would speak with them individually to "socialise the topic" in advance.

"You go behind the scenes and you work through it... You get the buy-in, you get the agreement, and when you are in a group setting it is a lot easier," she added.

A common message among the speakers at the forum was to "have confidence and know your stuff".

Lawyer Shehneela Ahmed, Britain's first Asian female football agent, noted: "You can't be shy or scared. You have to come out of your comfort zone. If you do your research, do your job well, people will respect you."

British entrepreneur Michelle Mone, the founder of lingerie brand Ultimo, offered a tip for women juggling work and family commitments: "Be super-organised. Have a to-do list before you go to bed, so that you can hit the ground running the next day."

This article was first published on March 5, 2016.
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