The Straits Times
Published on Dec 14, 2012

What working mothers want: Flexibility, peace of mind, adequate pay


THE workforce participation rate of women involves multiple issues and stakeholders ("Keep kids in school till 7pm so mums can go to work?" and "Many reluctant to opt for flexi-work arrangement"; both published last Friday).

While women desire to work, family interests are paramount to them. These conflicting interests may only be resolved by considering three points.

First, it must be acknowledged, particularly by employers, that women are full-time parents and caregivers. If this point is accepted, flexi- and part-time work arrangements must be designed to enable them to fulfil these roles.

Such arrangements fail when employers expect employees to work full-time and on a permanent basis. Careful assessments must be made on what sort of jobs, industries and organisations are suitable for such arrangements.

We must also realise that not all jobs can be designed to suit such arrangements.

Second, employers and policymakers must understand that women grapple with whether their children or elderly parents are in a safe, loving and nurturing environment while they are at work.

There is already an issue of being an absent parent when women work in certain roles.

The continued reliance on unskilled maids from different cultures will affect the children. So, we should consider developing a home-grown professional childcare and eldercare industry.

Finally, women may ask whether their work will adequately fund the services required to support family care arrangements, and yet enable them to fulfil their roles as a parent and a caregiver. Is the opportunity cost of re-entering the workforce at the expense of caring for their children or parents really worth it?

These are complex, emotive issues which have no easy answers and which may require a differentiated approach to meet varied societal needs. I hope that policymakers will examine these issues holistically and engage relevant agencies, employers, key health-care, child-related and childcare industries, and families on the way forward.

Alvin Sim