Letter of the week: Flexible work arrangements can help narrow gender pay gap

An office crowd in masks at Raffles Place on June 15, 2020. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Singapore ranked 54th in the Global Gender Gap Index 2020 rankings, below countries such as Bangladesh and the United States.

The Ministry of Manpower announced this year that the adjusted pay gap between men and women in Singapore in 2018 was 6 per cent. The pay gap widens in the late 30s, when most Singaporean women choose to have children.

The unadjusted gender pay gap here increased from 16 per cent in 2002 to 16.3 per cent in 2018.

Higher-paying roles such as engineering, finance and management positions are still male-dominated. Women tend to gravitate towards lower-paying jobs that offer flexible hours and allow them to remain as the primary caregiver for elderly parents and children. The problem is not that women are less qualified for the same job, but that high-paying positions do not offer flexible work schedules to accommodate working mothers.

The gender pay gap is not without consequences. It detrimentally affects a company's performance, its workplace culture and, most importantly, its bottom line. Businesses with equal gender representations do better in terms of sales and profit compared with male-dominated teams, according to a paper published in the journal Management Science.

What about the impact on women's health? A study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine in 2016 concluded that the pay gap significantly contributed to increased rates of depression and anxiety among women.

Companies might worry about the loss of productivity from granting all employees a flexible work schedule. However, a robust two-year study conducted by Stanford University researchers showed an astounding productivity boost among the telecommuters, equivalent to a full day's work. Employee attrition decreased by 50 per cent among the telecommuters. According to Professor Nicholas Bloom, employees started earlier, took shorter breaks and worked until the end of the day.

The Covid-19 outbreak has forced employers to provide ways for employees to work flexibly, and we should take advantage of this trend to level the playing field. Flexible work arrangements help working mothers as well as working fathers.

Every child deserves caring and involved parents, and every woman deserves to be paid equally for the same job.

Petty Pin Yu Chen (Dr)[ONLINE]

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