More can be done to help women break glass ceiling

The glass ceiling is, sadly, still intact ("Glass ceiling has already been broken" by Mr Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan; Forum Online, Nov 27).

Family norms and societal expectations of women remain real forces which powerfully structure women's opportunities and limit the choices open to them.

Policies aimed at improving work-family balance do not go far enough in equalising childcare responsibilities.

For instance, recent changes allow adoptive mothers 12 weeks of adoption leave but made no similar provision for fathers.

Since considerations such as breastfeeding and post-partum recovery are not applicable here, reserving this leave primarily for mothers strongly signals that childcare is considered a woman's responsibility.

Our education system does not devote time to explicitly affirming the importance of gender equality as a foundational societal value, or to educating students about how caregiving should be the shared responsibility of both genders and to recognise gender biases in society.

Regressive stereotypes about women still exist at decision-making levels. Women in various fields regularly report to us experiences of sexist condescension in their professional lives, from job interviews to assignment of tasks and communication in meetings.

They have little recourse to address this, since employers are under no legal duty not to discriminate.

Unconscious bias can also contribute to the low levels of female representation in organisational leadership.

According to the Singapore Board of Directors Survey 2015, 93 per cent of respondents relied on "personal contacts" when looking for board candidates - in other words, relying on the "old boys' network", which systematically excludes women.

Furthermore, a 2014 survey by recruitment firm Robert Half found that 71 per cent of human resource managers in medium-sized firms in Singapore cited "societal perceptions of women" as holding women back.

In large firms, 43 per cent perceived a "lack of promotional opportunities for women".

Some larger employers conduct unconscious bias training and other diversity and inclusion initiatives, but these efforts are not yet widespread.

Much more can be done to address and eradicate the perceptions, biases and structures that are still in place which limit women's choices and opportunities.

Chong Ning Qian (Ms)

Research Executive

Association of Women for Action and Research

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'More can be done to help women break glass ceiling'. Print Edition | Subscribe