Singapore has been acknowledged as one of the most progressive nations in Asia Pacific in terms of gender parity in the workforce by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI). The report revealed that Singapore scored a Gender Parity Score (GPS) of 0.68; well above the Asia Pacific region which got a 0.44.

To top it off, Singapore reshuffled its Cabinet last month and saw three female ministers for the first time – with two of them helming ministries of their own.

Yet, at The Dream Collective, we have observed that despite the progress made, a vast majority of women struggle to get through the mid-career marathon and fall off the corporate ladder prematurely.

Source: Bain and Company

Did you know? In comparison to men, women begin their careers with greater aspirations to reach top management. However, their confidence and aspirations see a drastic dip by the mid-career point – when they’re on the cusp of leadership positions.

And it was just in October last year that Yumiko Murakami, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Tokyo Centre, highlighted the “near complete absence of women in senior leadership positions in business and politics” because women who would have reached executive levels by now have nearly all left the workforce.

You might be tempted to attribute this exodus to women’s biological need and desire to raise a family, and if so, perhaps you are contributing to this unfortunate state of affairs.

A woman’s touch

Why though, does this matter?

MSCI ESG, an independent provider of research-driven insights and tools for institutional investors, noted that “groups with more diverse compositions tended to be more innovative and make better decisions”. Conversely, the report also revealed that companies which lack board diversity “suffered more governance-related controversies than average”.

So what is causing these high caliber young women to exit the workforce?

Image source: The Dream Collective

Lack of support from companies and line directors

While progress has been made, surprisingly, Singapore was ranked one of the lowest in Asia Pacific in terms of female representation on corporate boards – according to a study on diversity in the boardrooms.

One of the main reasons identified by the study was the lack of targets or diversity requirements.

Corporate leaders may have spoken out against implementing a system because of various concerns but I believe that a shock to the system is just what we need. Let’s not forget that we’re challenging generations of societal conditioning and if we want to induce such seismic change in attitudes, this is the catalyst we need to galvanise us into taking action.

To put things into perspective, the World Economic Forum’s 2017 gender gap report estimates that the overall global gender gap can be closed in 161 years in the East Asia and Pacific region.

But I believe we can achieve this in half the time by making a systemic change.

That said, a top-down approach does not ascertain success in gender equality in the workplace. Based on feedback and data collected from over 1,500 women from The Dream Collective alumnus in Australia, Japan and Singapore, it has been shown that it is crucial for immediate line directors and managers to buy into the ideal for real change to be effected.

Certain assumptions of women’s role in the home, which is entrenched in the patriarchal values of our society, affects the presumed ability of women to assume leadership roles. For example, in qualifying candidates for a leadership role, an implicit assessment of the level of commitment expected of a woman and a man differs based on the assumption that women would no sooner leave the workforce in pursuit of a happy family.

Such bias inherently affects the opportunities presented to women, thus limiting their ascent and aggravating their frustrations which ultimately ends up enabling the female exodus at the mid-career point.

In short, the phenomenon becomes a vicious circle. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

The old boys’ club

By the same token, with a largely homogeneous leadership – largely men with shared experiences such as National Service or education, they form a tight-knit and insular culture that can actually be an artificial barrier to entry for women seeking to ascend to the top.

Their shared values and beliefs also impact the assessment of female candidates who so aspire to join the old boys’ club.

Many members of The Dream Collective reported feeling out-of-place or left out among their male counterparts which inevitably affected their confidence to join the ranks of leadership.

Image source: The Dream Collective

According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), of the hundreds of chief human resource officers from more than 350 leading companies that were interviewed, 39 per cent of the respondents pointed to a lack of female role models as a barrier to hiring and promoting women.

Indeed, without a shining beacon to blaze a trail for the promising young talents who come after her, it’s hard for a woman in the workforce to perceive her dream of achieving a spot in the top management as a possible reality.

Without enough representation to provide a voice for women and help pave the way to a better future, how can we hope to turn things around?

That said, it’s not a secret that women are often their own worst enemies.

Dubbed the “queen bee syndrome” in the 1970s by the researchers from University of Michigan, this theory speaks of women in the top management having a negative impact on and impeding the progress of other women trying to make it to the top.

A Singapore daily broadsheet reported that “women are also harder on others of their sex” because they “tend to have a ‘I did it the hard way; you should too’ mindset when it comes to helping other women in their career path”.

In order to excel in the workplace, it is imperative to have a support system to help one navigate through the challenges at work. And it’s not just about having emotional support, but also to tackle systemic or institutional problems that an employee alone may not have the capacity or power to face.

Image source: The Dream Collective

Therefore, it is of utmost importance to have women at the top rungs of the ladder because their shared experience allows them to empathise better. It also provides them with the insight to more effectively mentor and guide other women through their unique career trajectory.

By extension, it is time to recognise that it’s not a zero-sum game because one woman’s ascent to the top doesn’t hinder the progress of others. In fact, with more women at the top brass working together, it actually creates better working conditions and a more conducive environment for young brilliant women to rise.

If the network and support grows bigger and stronger, we will also be able to effect change faster and more effectively because their shared experience unites them and motivates them to help each other.

Why change matters

Aside from improving performance-related results, particularly those pertaining to creativity and innovation, the very same gender gap report by WEF estimates that economic gender parity could add an additional US$250 billion to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the United Kingdom, US$1,750 billion to that of the United States and US$550 billion to Japan’s. For Singapore, it could add US$20 billion to Singapore’s GDP by 2025.

If we hope to rectify the lack of gender diversity, a collective effort is required as well as a deeper understanding of the forces behind it and the lack of opportunities that greatly discourage a woman from pursuing her career ambitions.

Image source: The Dream Collective

Everyday that we wait to act on it only increases the time needed to bridge the gender gap. Already, it stands at 161 years. At 161 years, it’s not just your wives, or your daughters or your granddaughters who will be affected but it will be generations of women to come.

Progress has been made but let’s not rest on our laurels. Let’s not forget that what we have achieved today is the product of the efforts by the women who came before us.

Role models have a consequential influence on confidence and resource-building as women chart their rise up the corporate ladder. It has never been more necessary for there to be a strong, intimate network of mentors comprising leading female corporate executives. More importantly, an international network allows opportunities for wider growth, expansion of transferable skill-sets and a broadening of horizons.

Networking opportunities with peers and industry leaders across continents will provide a platform for authentic discussions on career planning, overcoming challenges and driving career breakthroughs.

But first, let’s start with our own bias.

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Entrepreneur @ The Dream Collective
As the Silver Winner of International Stevie Awards for Young Female Entrepreneur of the Year, an Australian Women’s Weekly Women of the Future nominee, Sarah’s passion to inspire and achieve excellence is truly remarkable.Sarah began her entrepreneurial journey at the age of 24 and founded The DreamCollective (a network connecting young professional women), co-founded Gemini3(Australia’s first job share matching technology platform); and authored two top selling books across Asia Pacific while leading and delivering branding strategies for some of the world’s most recognized brands including Revlon, Olay and Coca-Cola.Determined to drive long term and sustainable change in women’s representation in the corporate landscape, Sarah works with leading corporations to deliver leadership programs to empower and equip high caliber young profession women across Australia. The Dream Collective has helped advance the career of 1200 emerging female talent since launch. Sarah’s desire and drive to transform the way we work has also led to the creation of Gemini3. As Australia’s first and only job share technology platform, Gemini3 creates a new sharing economy of the workforce through sophisticated pairing algorithm. Gemini3 partners with corporations to design jobs for the future, match individuals to compatible job share partner to build a flexible, diverse and sustainable workforce.Born in Taiwan, raised in New Zealand, educated in Japan and now working in Australia, Sarah is a true global citizen passionate about unlocking individual potential and building businesses that creates lasting impact to the way we work.


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