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askST: Mind the gender gap

A fair, inclusive and diverse workplace can help companies retain and attract talent

Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep), gender diversity
To achieve an inclusive and diverse workforce, both management and staff must make a conscious effort to combat gender bias. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Q: Is it possible for a company to achieve gender diversity in a male-dominated industry with deep-rooted stereotypes?

A: A diverse workforce provides better representation and brings more balanced perspectives to the table. To achieve an inclusive and diverse workforce, both management and staff must make a conscious effort to combat gender bias. This includes giving fair consideration to women and building new paths of success for them at every opportunity, even in traditionally male-dominated sectors like shipping, engineering, and information technology. 

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) sees gender diversity as a mark of a progressive employer and encourages companies to make it a priority in the workplace.

Employers should also support their employees, regardless of gender, by providing them with the flexibility to take on more active roles at home.

With greater gender diversity and family-friendly practices, employers can benefit from greater innovation and higher engagement that result from varied perspectives in their workforce. 

Q: Gender diversity sounds good in theory, but how can I apply that at my workplace?

A: Gender diversity at the workplace is achievable with commitment from both employers and employees. Employers can take these steps during their hiring process and throughout the employment journey to build inclusiveness in the workplace:

Remove gender bias when hiring 

Employers should review their existing human resource (HR) practices and avoid using gender as a selection criterion unless there are operational constraints. In such cases, employers must clearly state the reason for these requirements.

Employers should also refrain from asking non-job-related questions pertaining to gender or family responsibilities during interviews. Instead, employers should focus on asking questions that allow them to assess a potential candidate’s ability to perform the job. 

Both men and women need to be treated fairly throughout their employment. This begins from the job requirements stated in job advertisements and includes key aspects such as compensation, training and succession planning. 

Invest in inclusive practices 

It is crucial for a company’s management team to support and promote inclusive HR policies and programmes. Such programmes include training the next generation of leaders to proactively identify and remove any unconscious gender bias, as well as to address any lack of gender diversity.

Companies can also adopt the Tripartite Standards to signal to employees and jobseekers their commitment in providing fair opportunities for everyone.

Q3: I wish to lighten the workload of one of my employees who has just informed me about her pregnancy as I am concerned that she might not be able to cope. However I’m worried that she might misunderstand that as a form of discrimination. How can I be a supportive employer towards my pregnant employee?

A: The Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices states that employees should be assessed on the basis of merit and that employers should conduct regular and constructive performance reviews, which can help everyone to improve their performance.

Tafep encourages employers to speak regularly with employees who have new family responsibilities to understand their needs and work out suitable flexible work arrangements, rather than making unilateral changes in allocating work. A culture of openness at the workplace where employees can initiate conversations is important in facilitating two-way communication. 

While you could mean well, employers should not assume that pregnant employees or those with caregiving responsibilities would be unable to cope as before. With support from employers, employees can continue to contribute actively at the workplace.

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Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep)