Singapore has come a long way in diversifying its workforce, but we can do more.
Singapore’s workforce has become increasingly diverse over the last decade.
With globalisation, employees of different ages, genders, physical abilities, religions, ethnicities, nationalities, and cultures are working alongside one another in every company.
We are also seeing a shift in demographics of the workforce today. According to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the female labour force participation rate in Singapore was at 61.1 per cent last year, compared to 50.9 per cent in 2003. 1 MOM also reported that in 2018, around one in four of our resident workers were aged 55 and older. 2 Additionally, foreigners currently make up more than a quarter of Singapore’s population, 3 and with more than 7,000 multinational companies in Singapore, our city-state is a true hub of diversity.
With such a diverse workforce, it is important for organisations to implement policies and practices to build an inclusive workplace that appreciates differences amongst employees and works towards maximising their potential.
A diverse workforce allows organisations to benefit from different ideas, experiences, and insights offered by employees from different backgrounds.
Research has shown that teams built on diversity outperform others as they tend to be more creative and effective at problem solving. It also found that an inclusive and harmonious environment is a key driver in employee engagement and loyalty, which leads to reduced turnover. 4 This is supported by a 2019 recruitment survey that found that a workplace that respects diverse opinions is key to retaining talent. 5
Although a diverse workforce starts with inclusive hiring practices, it goes beyond just finding the right people for the job.
It is about creating a culture of inclusion where workers feel valued and supported. It is giving more women the opportunity to take on leadership positions. It is judging the performance of staff members by merit, instead of race, religion, gender, or any other criteria that divide.
It is redesigning jobs for mature workers, for example, by tapping on technology to reduce the physical requirements of certain roles. It is nurturing people with disabilities to contribute in their own unique ways and giving ex-offenders a second chance through the Yellow Ribbon project.
It is encouraging employees of different backgrounds to have conversations and learn from each other.
In this Covid-19 climate, it is important to ensure that that diversity and inclusion is not deprioritised in the face of more immediate operational challenges. Organisations need to focus on physical and mental health inclusivity in order to recover faster and stronger from the crisis.
Virtual town halls, small group gatherings, and monthly team chats are a good starting point to provide safe spaces for employees to share their opinions, or simply their own life experiences. Colleagues can regularly check in with one another. Leaders can have an open-door policy where employees are encouraged to raise concerns or challenges faced at work.
While Singapore has come a long way in diversifying its workforce, there are still areas for improvement.
A recent study by data, insights, and consulting firm Kantar, found that Singapore is the second-worst performing country in terms of workplace diversity and inclusion (D&I) practices, based on a poll of employees in 14 developed countries. 6
Canada topped the overall inclusion index, partly driven by its gender representation at companies, where more than 40 per cent of senior roles were occupied by women.
Inclusion and fairness in the workplace should be a business imperative and not just “the right thing to do”. And raising awareness on the importance of equality isn’t enough to drive concrete change. We need to take immediate action.
Here are three tips as a starting point:
Communicate a clear stand on inequality issues at a leadership level;
Implement a zero tolerance policy for racism, bullying behaviour, or discrimination of any kind; and
Offer an Employee Assistance Programme to provide assistance for employees’ personal or work-related problems.
Singapore is a multi-cultural, multi-racial, and multi-religious society, and our workplaces should reflect this too. In schools, we “pledge ourselves as one united people regardless of race, language, or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality”, so why should we not do the same in our workplaces?
It is only when we embrace diversity and inclusion at the workplace to effect real change that we can achieve true progress for our nation.
2 Ministry of Manpower, Growing Alongside Our Ageing Workforce. Accessed via: https://stats.mom.gov.sg/Pages/Growing_Alongside_Our_Ageing_Workforce.aspx
3 Gabrielle A, 24 September 2020, CNA, More overseas citizens returning, fewer marriages: 5 things from Singapore’s 2020 population report. Accessed via: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singapore-population-marriages-returning-citizens-13143084
5 YouJin L, 14 November 2019, TODAY Online, Asian professionals say a workplace that respects diverse opinion is key to retaining talent: Survey. Accessed via: https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/asian-professionals-say-workplace-respects-diversity-opinion-key-retaining-talent-survey
6 17 September 2019, The Straits Times, Singapore is 2nd worst globally for workplace diversity; 1 in 4 workers bullied: Poll. Accessed via: https://www.straitstimes.com/business/companies-markets/singtel-among-worlds-top-100-most-diverse-inclusive-workplaces-refinitiv
Dr William Wan is a Justice of the Peace and General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM). He was a senior partner of a regional law firm and a managing director of a psychometric company headquartered in the USA.
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