Future of Women in the Workplace

International Women's Day: 4 Leaders Share Their Vision For Women in the Workplace

Published 11th March 2021
by 
Melody Tay

HQ Asia Editor

Published 11th March 2021

According to the Global Gender Report 2020, most of us may not see the gender gap closed in our lifetimes – it will take 99.5 years on average globally. 

Asia as a region is not doing well. South Asia has the largest gender gap, while East Asia & the Pacific has had the slowest progress since 2006, when this report was first published. Furthermore, the report reveals that the greatest challenge preventing the economic gender gap from closing is women’s under-representation in emerging roles--particularly in tech and AI. In cloud computing, for example, just 12% of professionals are women. 

Women are also bearing a greater burden from the impacts of COVID-19 than men. PwC's Women In Work Index 202 report found that women were losing their jobs at a faster rate than men, and the pandemic was increasing the unequal burden of unpaid care and housework carried out by women. 

In Singapore, women continue to find it difficult to make meaningful career progressions in a corporate world that is entrenched by male dominance.

Of particular concern is the representation of women in political leadership and senior corporate and professional positions. Although 29% of elected seats in Singapore are held by women – a record high, and above the global average – there is still room for improvement. Meanwhile, women only made up 16.2% of the boards of the top 100 SGX-listed companies at the end of 2019, while the ratio of women in senior management decreased to 31% in 2019 from 33% in 2018. The unadjusted pay gap has reduced but was still at 16.3% in 2018. The World Economic Forum (WEF) also ranked Singapore at 54th place on its 2020 Global Gender Gap Index, trailing behind other emerging ASEAN states like Laos (43rd) and the Philippines (16th). 

These are sobering facts. But, on the bright side, we are making progress, and we want to celebrate that. In commemoration of International Women's Day, HQ Asia interviewed 4 women leaders about their vision for women in the workplace and what they #ChooseToChallenge this year. 

What they had to say echoed the findings of our report, ‘Women in Enterprises: Unlocking the Careers of Women@Work’:

  1. They encouraged women to speak up and speak out, to be brave and take risks to pursue their own paths of success, even if it is against societal expectations.
  2. They hoped that organisations would change systematically to support women and their aspirations, whether through flexible work arrangements or creating a sponsorship/mentorship system. 
  3. Many of them hoped that more women would work in the rising world of tech, big data, cloud computing and AI. 
  4. They challenged the notion of 24/7 work and instead advocated a change of mindset that taking time for one’s health and wellbeing is key to greater success

The 4 women we spoke with are from various backgrounds and industries. They are: 

  • Agatha Soh, Regional Head of People, Shopee
  • Julienne Loh, EVP, Enterprise Partnerships, Mastercard
  • Soh Siew Choo, Group Head of Big Data/AI and Consumer Banking Technology, DBS
  • Vasumathi Parthasarathy, Head, Talent Transformation – APAC, Tata Consultancy Services

Hear what they have to say below: 

What is one thing you hope to see for women in the workplace in the next 5 years?

Agatha Soh (AS): I hope to see more ways for women to define and pursue their own paths to success. Although much has been done to help women juggle their careers and parenthood in recent years. At Shopee, for example, we continue to provide flexible work arrangements for mothers and nursing rooms at the office. We can do more at an even more foundational level.

We need to help women discover and pursue their interests without fearing whether their interests are “common” or “right” for them to have. An example close to me is tech, which many women are still apprehensive about pursuing a career in. 

Julienne Loh (JL): When the world was grappling with a monumental loss of lives and livelihoods from the pandemic, it highlighted the ability of female world leaders like Jacinda Ardern and Tsai Ing-wen to lead effectively under extraordinary circumstances while instilling order, assurance, trust and calm. In the next five years, I hope that many women today who are still held back by lack of confidence or fear of failure will be inspired by prominent role models such as these to be brave, take risks and achieve their full potential. 

Vasumathi Parthasarathy (VP): I hope to see more empowered and successful women at leadership levels.

To make this possible, I hope forward-thinking organisations will embrace conscious inclusivity and create opportunities for women to learn, progress, network and move to leadership positions. 

Siew Choo (SC): In the next 5 years, I hope to see significantly accelerated momentum towards the equal participation of women in technology, particularly for critical disciplines including cloud, AI, blockchain, quantum computing etc. I am pretty hopeful that we will be able to achieve this goal, given the democratisation of information, and the fact that all industries are becoming digital and data-driven. To shape a better future, I strongly believe we need diverse and inclusive teams. 

This International Women’s Day, what is one thing you #ChooseToChallenge this year?

AS: When I was still in school, I saw many peers shy away from tech because they were not confident about finding a job after graduating, or friends persuaded them away from exploring this interest. 

I would like more women to challenge the idea that they are not cut out for a career in tech.

Today, I still see the same hesitation among women when it comes to embarking on a career in tech. The truth is that the career possibilities are endless for women in tech. At Shopee, I see many women making a difference in typically male-dominated fields, such as engineering and data science. Many of them are leaders, driving our latest innovations in e-commerce.

JL: The global pandemic has turned workplaces and homes upside down. This year, I choose to challenge that it is OK to say I am NOT OK, especially during this period, where burnout may creep up on us even before we realise it.

It’s important to have the courage to be kind to oneself. Taking a break and finding time to focus on one’s wellbeing is not only necessary for sustainable high performance: it is foundational.

VP: It is not unheard of for women to receive pushback for raising their hand and aspiring for greater opportunities that are not in line with stereotypes assigned to their gender. I choose to challenge people to question the constraints of their mind and be rid of gender biases and stereotypes. And to women specifically, I challenge them to continue to raise their hands and voices to seek out what they aspire and deserve

SC: I choose to challenge the limits and labels that others put on women.

There is no limit and women should be fearless about what they can accomplish. 

Many women have proven to be excellent leaders. Gender shouldn't play a part in choosing our leaders.­ If we want to see a better world, we need to celebrate our women leaders and #ChooseToChallenge the gender biases, stereotypes and assumptions in our organisations and in our personal lives. 

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