Many articles discuss the lack of women in business. Here’s one that highlights the Singaporean women who break the barriers.
Women’s Equality Day on the 26th August and Businesswomen’s Day on the 22nd September are days dedicated to working towards a gender-equal world, recognising injustices, celebrating successes by women, and raising awareness of biases that existed historically and presently.
There is currently a lot of discussion around women at work and how underrepresented women are in industry. 1 For example, in America, five per cent of tech industry ownership are women, and it is even smaller for black women across the world studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) related courses at university at only 2.9 per cent.
So, what about women in business?
There are more women entering business than ever recorded, which shows how far we have come. For example, the number of global female entrepreneurs has increased by more than 10 per cent each year. 2 According to Karen Quintos, chief customer officer at Dell, women are equally or more likely to start a business than men.
However, are more women driven to entrepreneurship to overcome the general bias faced at work? According to a 2018 report, 3 primary reasons that drove women to start their own businesses included:
More flexibility to either care for their young children or ageing parents, as women are typically primary caregivers;
They can charge their own rates and handle their own online accounting and invoicing 4 in order to overcome the gender pay gap; and
To escape the glass ceiling that is having promotions passed over them in favour of male colleagues.
In 2018, Mastercard reported 5 that only 27.5 per cent of Singaporean business owners were women, placing Singapore 14th on a list of 57 countries. This could be viewed as encouraging for the country considering that the Asia Pacific region was ranked the region with the lowest proportion6 of female business leaders in the world by the World Bank.
That being said, last year the Singapore Business Review reported that women only make up 33 per cent of their companies’ senior management team, the highest it has ever been. This statistic is higher than the averages in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at 28 per cent and around the world at 29 per cent.
While the number of women in senior leadership positions are on the rise, the number of women at the head of the table is still a tremendous distance from achieving equality. Only 15 per cent of businesses across the world have a woman leading the business as the CEO or managing director, significantly falling behind ASEAN’s 21 per cent and 2019 Fortune’s list of Fortune 500 companies at 6.6 per cent. 7 Human resources account for the largest proportion of women in senior management roles in Singapore as 41 per cent of businesses have a female human resources director.
Unfortunately, 52 per cent majority of female respondents and 29 per cent of all respondents believe that their employers aren’t taking any serious steps to remedy this gender disparity. If CEOs and managing directors had more diversity, they would notice the impact this issue has on both business and the macroeconomy.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute, 8 solving gender inequality in Singapore's workforce could add S$26 billion to the country's GDP by 2025.
Why the Gender Gap?
Lorraine Parkin, partner and head of tax services at Grant Thornton Singapore, commented, “The Singapore data has shown that finding the time alongside core job responsibilities and lack of access to developmental work opportunities are two key barriers that prevent women from acquiring the skills and attributes to be successful in their leadership roles.
“Policies that address equal opportunity in career development, bias in recruitment and flexible working can’t just be a nice to have—they must be adhered to, enforced, and regularly revisited to assess their effectiveness and when that is combined with real commitment from senior leadership, you begin creating a truly inclusive culture.”
It is well established 9 that women in general are socialised to feel unconfident about their gender through bias in education and general societal expectations internalised as low confidence and fear of failure. Men are raised to be leaders, not women. So, when women are assertive and confident in work, traits of leadership, this can be perceived negatively. This can cause women to feel afraid to ask for deserved pay rises.
Overcoming these Challenges
When women do well in business, it helps economies grow. That is a fact.
When funding and philanthropy have shown that it’s becoming important for successful women to be able to tell their story to give budding entrepreneurs someone to look up to and aspire to be like, particularly in male-dominated sectors, through education reform.
Education reform has been effective in encouraging girls in UK schools to pursue STEM-related subjects, with A-level material including successful women in the industry, which was linked to 2019’s influx of female students. Is this something Singapore needs?
There are initiatives that have been created to encourage female business owners and the economic advancement of women in developing countries.
Funding for Women in Business
Research by HSBC 10 found that 41 per cent of female Singaporean entrepreneurs have experienced gender bias even when attempting to raise capital for their business, particularly when they were questioned about their credibility, ranking significantly higher than Hong Kong (31 per cent), but lower than the UK (54 per cent) and US (46 per cent).
There are limited grants available for female Singaporean entrepreneurs, so do some research to find out what is available for you. For example, Deloitte Women’s Mentorship Programme 11 helps women overcome barriers through hosting events which allows likeminded women to connect, attract talent, and offering support. This is a helpful cause as the more women in business, the more acceptance and less discrimination.
In an everchanging financial landscape, striving for gender equality is an important steppingstone in helping to build our economy and create more jobs.
1 Lucy W, 18 January 2019, Technology & Innovation, Why Are Women Under-Represented in the Tech Industry? Accessed via: https://www.business2community.com/tech-gadgets/why-are-women-under-represented-in-the-tech-industry-02160286
2 Nichole C, 27 February 2019, Entrpreneur.com, How Are the 50 top South African business women to watch in no particular order. Accessed via: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/327573
3 Caroline C, 04 February 2019, Forbes.com, Why More Women Are Turning To Entrepreneurship. Accessed via: https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolinecastrillon/2019/02/04/why-more-women-are-turning-to-entrepreneurship/#2614db8e542a
4 Intuit, Send better invoices to your customers. Accessed via: https://quickbooks.intuit.com/sg/invoicing/
5 Mastercard.com, Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) 2018. Accessed via: https://newsroom.mastercard.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/MIWE_2018_Final_Report.pdf
6 Nunu N, 13 August 2018, IOL, Opinion: Unleashing economic potential of SA’s women-owned business. Accessed via: https://www.iol.co.za/business-report/opinion/opinion-unleashing-economic-potential-of-sas-women-owned-business-16522041
7 28 May 2020, Catalyst, Historial List of Women CEOs of the Fortune Lists: 1972-2020. Accessed via: https://www.catalyst.org/research/historical-list-of-women-ceos-of-the-fortune-lists-1972-2020/
8 Deborah H, 06 March 2020, The Business Times, Empowering women is key to unlocking Singapore’s economic potential. Accessed via: https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/leadership-management/empowering-women-is-key-to-unlocking-singapores-economic-potential
9 16 April 2019, ScienceDaily, Want black women students to stay in STEM? Help them find role models who look like them. Accessed via: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190416170914.htm
10 09 October 2019, The Straits Times, Women entrepreneurs in Singapore battle to win equal slice of funding pie: HSBC. Accessed via: https://www.straitstimes.com/business/economy/women-entrepreneurs-in-singapore-battle-to-win-equal-slice-of-funding-pie-hsbc
11 David C, Deloitte, Improving Women’s Access to Leadership Opportunities. Accessed via: https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/improving-womens-access-to-leadership-opportunities.html
Lucy Desai is a content writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. With a background in marketing, Lucy has contributed to a number of leading publications and online news sites, covering topics from accounting and finance, to business and the environment.
Copyright © 2020 Singapore Institute of Management