Six questions that will impact women in the workplace today, and tomorrow

By Robert Half on 8 March 2024

In recognition of Women's History Month and International Women’s Day, Robert Half conducted a survey in March 2024 among 107 hiring managers in Singapore to find out what organisations are doing to support gender equality and women's empowerment in the workplace.

According to the survey, 64% of Singaporean companies have policies, guidelines or initiatives to foster gender diversity within their organisation and 93% state that having a gender diverse workforce has a positive impact on staff retention.

But true gender equality remains elusive.

The United Nations reported that women still participate less in the job market and are more likely to have vulnerable employment.

When hiring managers in Singapore were asked what the biggest challenges are that women face in the workplace, 70% pointed to work-life balance issues, followed by gender bias (51%), limited access to leadership positions (45%) and lack of equal pay (41%).

Business leaders are in agreement that increased efforts and actions are needed to tackle gender inequality in the workplace. Almost seven in 10 (68%) Singaporean hiring managers believe that offering leadership development programs for women is key to ensure equal opportunities for women in leadership positions, closely followed by providing mentoring and networking opportunities (67%), establishing clear diversity goals and metrics (62%), and implementing diversity and inclusion training programs (54%).

When asked about concrete examples of how their organisation supports gender equality and women's empowerment in the workplace, here's what some of the hiring managers said:

  • Specific goals on gender equality, including the number of C-level positions to be filled by women
  • Leadership development programs
  • Establishment of a DEI council and DEI training
  • Mentoring programs
  • Partnering with professional associations to inspire more women to take on tech roles
  • Awareness campaigns and creating women-focused communities

So, what advice do women have for those with their sights set on a great career? What are the key trends and challenges? Here’s a rundown of what some of Robert Half’s own Asia Pacific female leaders had to say.

1. What are the best examples of positive change in the workplace that you have noticed in the past five years?

  • Megan Alexander, General Manager, New Zealand
  • Nicole Gorton, Director, Australia
  • Elaine Lam, Managing Director, Hong Kong
  • Melissa Lau, Associate Director, Hong Kong
  • Fanny Tang, Managing Director, Beijing China
  • Fen Teo, Associate Director, Singapore

More flexible workplaces, and the push for better work-life balance and employee wellness are allowing working mothers to fulfil both parental and work responsibilities – including taking on leading roles. According to Teo, Robert Half is observing a shift in Singapore towards more women assuming senior leadership positions at C-suite and board level as a result.

Gorton says there is increasing awareness and action around women in the workplace. “Mutual respect and support allow for greater engagement and performance, and companies are reviewing their sourcing methodologies to increase workplace diversity.”

2. Have you noticed any new incentives in job descriptions to attract women to roles?

Increased parental leave, flexible hours and remote working are just some of the rewards that Gorton has seen. Another less visible but important incentive is setting up a ‘back to work’ policy for returning mothers who need further time and/or emotional support whilst their child settles into their new environment.

Lau commented, “Some companies in Hong Kong also put in the effort to hire back female employees who left the workforce due to family commitments.”

3. How can women in the workplace make their mark?

It was a consensus amongst Robert Half’s female leaders that to really excel, you will need to push yourself out of your comfort zone. That includes feeling comfortable about being open and assertive, because transparency of thought allows for more clearly defined agendas and objectives.

“Remember that you are in control, so keep a positive mindset and think about what you can do differently to improve yourself,” advised Alexander.

4. How do you expect the workplace to change over the next five years to encourage more women into work?

For Gorton, further advancements in technology and our ability to be connected at all times will create greater opportunity for women to advance their careers on a part-time or flexible basis.

“Stay-at-home mums will be able to return to work sooner, which can help to address the talent shortage,” shared Teo who is seeing such trends in Singapore. Similarly, in Hong Kong, Lam believes more companies will offer flexible working hours and increased annual leave programs to attract more women back to the workforce.

Alexander reflected: “Trends around flexibility and diversity should improve as new generations come into management and replace previous ways of thinking. The next phase will be to ensure diversity is adopted and holistically implemented across an organisation.”

5. Have you noticed a trend towards a more diverse recruitment policy from hiring managers?

“Many companies that we are working with are adopting ratio or quota policies, and become far more diverse in their hiring of minority groups,” says Gorton. “Having a strategy that is measurable, and policies to match, is imperative.”

“We have seen more companies request to include more female candidates during the interviewing/screening process – a positive shift towards driving diversity,” commented Lam.

Alexander believes that clients are recognising the benefits of women in the workplace and diverse teams. “We definitely see this in Auckland, which has a real mix of cultures.”

6. What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

Alexander: “Back yourself, don’t limit yourself.”

Teo: “Take charge of your career, because nobody else will!”

Gorton: “Don’t be a bystander, be an upstander. This applies anywhere in life, but in the workplace it’s especially important to speak up when you see a wrong – even if you are not directly involved.”

Tang: “You are able to excel if you are able to push yourself out of your comfort zone.”

Lau: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

In 2023, for the fifth consecutive year, Robert Half has been named to the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI) for its commitment to advancing women’s equality and transparency in gender reporting and the Forbes’ Best Employers for Diversity in recognition of its diversity efforts. Robert Half is also a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) to advance gender equality.

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