S'pore ranked 5th best place for women entrepreneurs

This International Women's Day, it seems that Singapore women have plenty to cheer about, but there is still more to be done, separate reports by Mastercard and UBS have found.

In Mastercard's inaugural Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2017, Singapore emerged fifth among markets with the strongest supporting conditions and opportunities for women to thrive as entrepreneurs.

These conditions include strong support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), a high quality of governance, ease of doing business and access to financial services and products.

New Zealand topped the list, followed by Canada, the US and then Sweden in fourth place.

The index surveyed 54 economies across the world, representing 78.6 per cent of the world's female population.

Singapore was top-ranked in the world for access to knowledge assets and finances, which gauges women's progress and the degree of marginalisation they face commercially as financial customers and tertiary education enrollment.

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The Republic also had the highest rated conditions for women business ownership/entrepreneurship globally, just ahead of New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Deborah Heng, country manager for Mastercard Singapore, said: "The prevalent success of women entrepreneurs in Singapore has been greatly fuelled by the accessibility to financial, governing and educational infrastructure."

But despite the strong infrastructure support, Singapore failed to crack the top 10 when it comes to countries with the greatest percentage of women business owners. It ranked 12th in this metric.

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The report noted that key deterrents for entrepreneurs in Singapore - whether male or female - included the high costs of doing business as well as low perceived skills.

It cited a 2016 study by DP Information Group, which found that local SMEs struggle with escalating costs of doing business, especially in wages and rents, amid rising competitive pressures regionally.

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The lack of confidence among Singaporeans, as reflected in their low perception of entrepreneurship skills, knowledge and experience, was another obstacle in the country's growth of future entrepreneurship, the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Special Report on Women Entrepreneurship found.

The index also found that while supporting business conditions may foster more female entrepreneurs, "grit" was identified as the main factor spurring female entrepreneurship in developing markets such as Uganda, Bangladesh, Vietnam and China, all of which made the list of top 10 markets for the highest proportion of women business owners.

In a separate UBS white paper on Gender-Lens Wealth, Singapore came in tops in the region for its percentage of working women and maternity leave provisions, yet trailed the pack in terms of female political participation and women working in science.

Singapore women's economic participation and opportunities as a percentage of men's stood at 79 per cent - the highest in the region - compared to the average of 71 per cent in developed Asia Pacific economies, going by statistics from the World Economic Forum (WEF).

When it comes to maternity leave, Singapore again is the highest in the region with 16 weeks, compared to the average of 14 in the developed Asia-Pacific. Across the region, countries with the lowest maternity leave provisions are Malaysia and the Philippines, at nine weeks.

Despite this, the percentage of Singapore women working in science was at 30 per cent, similar to Australia, another developed Asia-Pacific nation.

While better than Japan at 15 per cent, the gender gap is still significant in the industry.

In addition, Singapore women do not have a high participation in public decision making; it has only an 11 per cent rating in WEF's political empowerment sub-index. India leads the region at 43 per cent, followed by the Philippines at 39 per cent. On the other end of the spectrum, Malaysia fared the worst at 5 per cent, and Japan was next at 10 per cent.

There is no official Singapore data on the unpaid care work done by men as a percentage of women, or the number of women graduates as a percentage of overall science graduates.

The white paper's recommendations to improve gender equality and empowerment are in three main areas, namely reducing women's unpaid domestic work burdens, including childcare; boosting maternity provisions; and improving women's STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education outcomes.

This article was first published on Mar 08, 2017.
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