Perceptions that flexible work arrangements would hurt careers must be changed: President Halimah

President Halimah Yacob said many women in particular have to balance caregiving with their careers. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM HALIMAH YACOB/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Workers need to see that flexible work arrangements would not hinder their career progression, and smaller employers need support to implement them, said President Halimah Yacob on Wednesday (March 9).

Speaking at a virtual event to mark International Women's Day, Madam Halimah added that many women in particular have to balance caregiving with their careers.

"Family-friendly workplace policies such as flexible work arrangements will help.

"The challenge with the current flexible work arrangements is that they are voluntary and depend a great deal on employers' support to introduce them," she added.

But things are changing.

At the event organised by the National University Health System (NUHS), Madam Halimah noted that as at end 2021, 43.7 per cent of the doctors at NUHS were women.

"This is the result of sustained efforts in eradicating preconceived notions on women's roles, and can also be attributed in part to the Government's decision in 2003 to abolish the quota capping female enrolment in medicine at the National University of Singapore," she said.

In her speech, President Halimah lauded the contributions women have made in science and healthcare while balancing their caregiving duties.

She said assistant director of nursing Katherine Leong had in 2020 launched NUHS' first community care facility in Tuas South at the height of the pandemic.

The facility catered to around 1,600 migrant workers.

"Despite the language barrier and possibility of contracting the virus, Katherine and her team remained committed to caring for the migrant workers.

"This was even as she was the primary caregiver to her late father who suffered from Parkinson's disease and dementia," said Madam Halimah.

Ms Leong, 51, who was awarded the President's Award for Nurses last year, said she also had to manage her two school-going children.

"If it weren't for my helper, who is the main anchoring person at home, to help manage the fort, it would have been very difficult.

"It also helped having understanding colleagues and bosses, who let me know they had my back. That really made a huge difference too," she said.

President Halimah also highlighted the contributions of Dr Sophia Archuleta, who leads the NUHS Women in Science and Healthcare team.

"As head and senior consultant of the Division of Infectious Diseases at NUH, she played an important role when the Covid-19 pandemic hit," said Madam Halimah.

Dr Archuleta, 49, did this while carrying out her duties as the main caregiver to her elderly father.

Dr Sophia Archuleta (left) and assistant director of nursing Katherine Leong. PHOTO: NATIONAL UNIVERSITY HEALTH SYSTEM

The event on Wednesday also included a panel discussion where topics like unconscious bias and awareness at workplaces were discussed.

Professor Jonathan Eisen of the University of California urged men to speak up on behalf of their female counterparts if they witness unfair treatment.

He also encouraged men to use their privilege and listen and amplify women's voices, but in a calm and collected manner.

"We all benefit from fairness, at the end of the day," he said.

Dr Gao Mingqi, also a panellist and a third-year resident of NUHS' internal medicine programme, said senior colleagues should step in when a female employee is subjected to an insensitive or harmful comment.

By intervening, they would make her feel she is part of the team.

The NUHS Women in Science and Healthcare event to mark International Women's Day was launched in 2021.

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