No room for sexism in the workforce

By Ghui

It is not unusual to have a woman at  the top position in the corporate world nowadays.

Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany and Janet Yellen, Chair Of the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Systems are but a few examples of  women who are in pole positions of power.

Indeed, promoting an individual on the basis of merit with no consideration for sex is fast becoming a norm in our modern world. It reflects not just a global shift in perception towards gender equality but also economic reality where it is less and less possible to support a household just based on a single income.

Singapore is no exception in this global trend and the government itself has noted the significant contributions of women in the workforce. Ms Grace Fu, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office recently said: “Gender diversity in the boardroom will help companies improve their performance and attract more talent, and regulators can do more to ensure companies have more women in their senior leadership.”

For detractors who are apt to dismiss this as feminists trying to push home some sort of bra burning agenda, think again. From the many many women who have excelled academically and risen to top positions, it is clear that women are intellectually as capable as their male counterparts.

Recognising that sexism should have no place in our 21st-century world is therefore not really about feminism at all – it is simply a reflection of our present day values. In fact, labelling equality in the board room as a feminist issue is outdated in the extreme.

Leaving the obvious pros of developing an enlightened society aside and purely from a dollars and cents perspective, the move to eradicate sexism in the work place and by extension society as a whole is one that would benefit Singapore. Many multi-national companies with business investments have gender equality on their mission statements and have been active in promoting the cause.

Hence, if Singapore wants to remain relevant in attracting the best talent and retaining its position as a top city in Asia for business, no hint of sexism ought to be tolerated, least of all from those who sit at the apex of their organisations.

It therefore strikes me with some surprise that the Chief Executive of the Science Centre, Dr Lim Tit Meng, has managed to get away without apparent censure for sending an email to his entire staff with the following content : “…I have my reasons why not many women can have the stature to hold the highest position. One of them is simply about the complex nature of women which challenges them with communication barriers in even understanding their own gender well, let alone having to compete or co-labour with the men at work.”

Even more shocking was that this email was sent to his staff members on International Women’s Day.

The Science Centre, as a statutory board under the Ministry of Education, is a public organisation. Given the government’s stance on promoting the role of women in the workforce, Dr. Lim’s views seem out of place and in contradiction to the government’s position. To add insult to injury, Dr Lim is from the education sector. Do we really want to unwittingly send the message to our children that women are unable to compete with men due to their “complex nature” that prevents them from “understanding their own gender”?

Dr Lim is by no means the only offending person in this category. AWARE has started a tongue-in-cheek online poll to “honour” similar transgressions in its annual ALAMAK Awards.

While the reality of equality of women is already in force, it would seem that the mindsets of some have not caught up, and more worryingly amongst those who should really have known better. While, I would like to dismiss Dr Lim’s comments as a joke, I am unable to do so by virtue of the fact that he works in the public segment and is a part of the education sector.

If the government is serious about recognising the role of women in Singapore, perhaps it ought to start providing some training to its staff.

While people are entitled to their thoughts, they should learn to keep these to themselves if they are running an organisation that is supposed to be egalitarian. As for those in the top ranks, who need to set a positive example for those they seek to lead, not only is it important for them to mind their words, but we should be very concerned that they even harbour such biased thoughts.