Josephine Teo on the challenges Singapore women face at work

Parliament had unanimously backed a motion on the White Paper on Singapore Women's Development. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - When Mrs Josephine Teo was pregnant with her first child, a boss remarked that her attitude towards work had changed and she no longer seemed as motivated as before.

The incident struck a nerve. "When I heard that, I thought, 'Why is it that you think of me that way as a new mother, but you don't think the same way when my male colleagues become new fathers?'" said Mrs Teo, who is Minister for Communications and Information.

That boss - she did not specify the person's gender - had probably not put too much thought into the issue, and simply felt it was natural for her priorities to change, Mrs Teo said on Thursday (May 5).

But such attitudes contribute to women thinking they need to reach a certain level in their career before starting a family, she added.

The minister was speaking at a Chinese-language webinar on challenges faced by women in Singapore, including workplace issues such as harassment and the difficulty of juggling caregiving and work responsibilities.

Other speakers included National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay and Fei Yue Family Service Centre co-founder Leng Chin Fai, who also addressed topics such as domestic violence and gender roles in parenting.

The event was jointly organised by Chinese newspaper Shin Min Daily News and government feedback portal Reach, and took place one month after Parliament unanimously backed a motion on the White Paper on Singapore Women's Development.

The White Paper sets out a list of proposals to support women in the workplace and at home, including promoting flexible work arrangements, enhancing support for parents and caregivers, and changing mindsets.

On parenting, Mr Tay observed that many fathers these days take on a much larger role in caring for their children than a decade ago, while Mr Leng spoke on the importance of having good role models for children to learn from.

One listener asked about childcare leave for single parents, especially those with more than one child. Currently, parents each get six days of childcare leave no matter how many children they have.

Mrs Teo replied that the issue has to be looked at from the employer's perspective as well as the employee's.

Should the childcare leave entitlement increase with each additional child, parents with multiple children might find that this may negatively impact their prospects in the job market. This could be the case no matter the parent's marital status, she said.

The Government takes such considerations into account when it makes policy, she added.

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