NTUC to groom more women leaders

President Halimah Yacob (centre, in pink) at the forum marking International Women's Day, with NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng and Associate Professor Faishal Ibrahim, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development (both behind
President Halimah Yacob (centre, in pink) at the forum marking International Women's Day, with NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng and Associate Professor Faishal Ibrahim, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development (both behind her), posing for a wefie with union leaders. ST PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN
President Halimah Yacob (centre, in pink) at the forum marking International Women's Day, with NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng and Associate Professor Faishal Ibrahim, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development (both behind
Union members staging a skit on the progress made by women in Singapore, to commemorate International Women's Day.ST PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN

New programme, comprising workshops and mentoring, to prepare women for top roles

Moves are under way to correct the wide gender imbalance in the executive ranks of unions here.

Women make up almost half the membership of unions affiliated to the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), yet occupy only 33 per cent of the leadership roles.

A developmental programme is in the works to help prepare more women for positions at the helm. It aims to address issues they face, such as a lack of confidence to lead in traditionally male-dominated environments.

NTUC announced the initiative yesterday at a forum marking International Women's Day that was attended by about 300 union leaders.

A spokesman said the programme will comprise workshops and mentoring by union and NTUC leaders, but did not give details.

President Halimah Yacob told the forum of the importance of female union leaders in a time of technological disruption: "There will be increasing numbers of women PMEs (professionals, managers and executives) in the workforce and the unions' biggest challenge will be to... engage them meaningfully.

"Women trade union leaders have played a critical role alongside their male counterparts in making our workplace a fairer and just place for all workers."

BETTER REPRESENTATION

We can't change history, but... with enough women stepping forward to assume these roles, I'm sure we will have better representation in the next 50 years.

NTUC SECRETARY-GENERAL NG CHEE MENG, on doing more to support women leaders. NTUC has had only two female presidents in its central committee.

Madam Halimah said young women interested in leadership positions need role models, but it can be difficult for them to take on such jobs, given challenges like the need to balance work and family.

Apart from encouraging staff to adopt telecommuting and other flexible work arrangements, she said: "It is also important for families to better share the caregiving responsibilities at home, as government responses and employers' initiatives alone will not solve the problem.

"This is obviously a global challenge, as the International Labour Organisation recently pointed out that progress towards gender parity at work has barely nudged for the past quarter-century and will speed up only when men take up more caregiving tasks."

Other challenges include ensuring a pipeline of young women unionists to take leadership roles, with the need for more to serve at different levels - in companies, union headquarters and the NTUC's central committee.

But progress has been made over the years, said Madam Halimah. Even though women are still found mainly in sectors such as nursing and teaching, more are entering the science and technology fields.

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng said at the event, held at NTUC Centre, that union leaders have helped to secure more support for women over the years, such as better childcare facilities for working mothers and help for those who want to return to the workforce.

But more remains to be done, as NTUC has had only two female presidents in its central committee. Mr Ng said: "We can't change history, but... with enough women stepping forward to assume these roles, I'm sure we will have better representation in the next 50 years."

Union leader Lee Yoke Lan, 79, a former vice-president of the Amalgamated Union of Public Employees, pointed out the need to educate more women on union activities, noting that some might perceive union work to be aggressive and a source of unreasonable demands.

She said "others cannot speak for you", adding that voicing concerns helps ensure firms do not just do the bare minimum in areas like wages.

Madam Noorfarahin Ahmad, 48, vice-chairman of the NTUC Women's Committee, said a programme to groom more women leaders is good, but there should also be clear plans for leadership transition.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2019, with the headline 'NTUC to groom more women leaders'. Print Edition | Subscribe