Singapore’s Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu Hai Yien has called on companies that have a presence in the city-state to take the lead in championing diversity, saying doing so would provide a catalyst for others to follow.
“By having companies to take the lead, and hoping that you will house a change in the employment market … I hope that that will drive the change in the economy,” she said, speaking at the Dell Women Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) Summit in Singapore on Monday.
“In Singapore we tend not to use policies too much that will affect competitiveness and also business conditions, so we always move quite rigidly when we get to issues such as HR practices, workplace practices.
“We’re not using policy as a lever; we’re using funding to encourage companies to take the lead. And I think in this case, Dell definitely has been a frontrunner for us and we hope that will continue to be a role model for us.”
With Fu being the first woman to have a ministry in 2015 — now there’s four, including the president — she has used her platform to advocate for women.
She said the government can only do so much, which is why it is up to the companies that operate in Singapore to take advantage of the legislative changes the government has introduced.
“The government does not have all the solutions; how do you change a societal perception of what women should do versus men, where should women be working, whether a woman should be working at all,” she explained.
“Societal biases are laced heavily on Asian values — Asia is very different from one country to another. Singapore does not represent — in Singapore we take for granted some of the very basic conditions that empower women.
“These societal norms are not something government can change by mandate, it requires all of us to first work as role models to show that we can do it, we have greater contribution in the economy — instead of having me at home looking after children I can create jobs for 20-30 or even 200 men and women out there and I think when we start to do that, start to send a message, we will start to shift the societal expectations.”
The government has introduced flexible work arrangements, such as maternity and paternity leave, parental leave, and elderly care leave. It has also focused on educating women at any age. Fu said it’s created an environment that is more supportive of women and families.
“Across Asia, demographic shifts, the rising level of education for women have had a direct and large impact on the economy … it’s catalysed a virtuous cycle that will benefit the economy,” she said. “We need women around the table to equally cast our eyes on the present and the future and ask ourselves what can we do to live behind a great legacy for ourselves to create a better place for ourselves.”