Barriers to gender diversity still exist

PHOTO: Barriers to gender diversity still exist

SINGAPORE - Back in the dark ages, getting an office job to a woman meant tapping away at a typewriter. But these days, you can find women on the executive floor and chairing meetings.

The advancement of gender diversity has opened up job opportunities for women in industries once dominated by men.

But Association of Women for Action and Research executive director Corinna Lim said barriers to diverse workplaces are still evolving.

She said some companies in Singapore have inflexible office cultures and discriminate against pregnant women, factors that make it difficult for female professionals with families to remain in the workforce.

But some companies are bucking the trend. At WongPartnership, equal numbers of men and women make up the law firm's pool of partners.

Last month, Euromoney's Asia magazine, as part of its Asia Women in Business awards, named the company the best national firm for women in business law and the best national firm for work-life balance.

Ms Audrey Chng, one of the firm's partners, said the company promotes an environment of open communication with supervisors.

"I have at various points needed to take a slower pace due to personal reasons.

"I am fortunate to be in a firm which emphasises people retention and where the culture is open and conducive enough for me to voice out my concerns," she said.

"As a result, I was able to readjust my portfolio on those occasions to accommodate my needs."

While discussions about gender diversity typically centre on women, some experts say the issue should be about maintaining a healthy workplace, where both genders are given equal opportunities.

Human resource experts say adopting this type of gender-harmonious environment is good for business.

Ms Stella Tang, director of Robert Half Singapore, said it does not make business sense for companies to turn away a top candidate within their talent pool.

"It takes time and resources to recruit or hire the right person for a job... (If you turn someone away based on gender) you also turn your back on the good ideas and solutions that will take your company forward."

In recent years, some countries in Europe have rolled out gender quotas that have led to more women getting on corporate boards.

Ms Lim said: "The low number of Singaporean women in senior management is a cause for concern... It remains unclear that quotas are the best way forward."

She added that a possible solution to the problem is setting targets instead of rigid quotas.

Discussions of gender roles in the workplace can often involve stereotypes, but Ms Tang outlined that the two genders bring different traits and perspectives that can enhance the way companies conduct business.

Women, she says, can be just as tough as men in the workplace, and men can also be inclusive and conciliatory.

"Women tend to be better able to compromise as they can be more empathetic of the other person's position. They often find it easier to locate the workable middle ground than men do," she notes.