Mindsets must shift to close gender pay gap

Women should be assessed on capabilities, performance like men, says Ong Ye Kung

Mr Ong Ye Kung at the Singapore Committee for UN Women's fund-raising dinner yesterday.
Mr Ong Ye Kung at the Singapore Committee for UN Women's fund-raising dinner yesterday.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

The gender pay gap in Singapore will remain an issue unless social mindsets change, said Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills).

"There is still a gap in pay, in the amount of household work that men and women do, and the proportion of senior positions going to men," he said.

"I am not sure if those gaps will ever close, unless there is a shift in social norms and in the expectations placed on women."

Mr Ong was speaking at Snow (Say No to the Oppression of Women), the Singapore Committee for UN Women's annual gala fund-raising dinner at Capella Singapore yesterday.

The organisation launched the #stoptherobbery campaign, which will raise awareness of the gender pay gap here through various events.

For instance, it hopes to work with the Singapore Exchange on the Ring the Bell for Gender Equality initiative.

The Straits Times had reported last month that the median gross monthly income of women was 19 per cent lower than men's in 2006.

Last year, it was 18 per cent lower.

Mr Ong said he was more concerned about "freedom of choice" than "absolute equality" between the genders. "If (women) want to pursue careers in any fields, they should be assessed based on their capabilities and performance no different from men, and there should be nothing standing in their way just because they are female.

"But if women decide to devote themselves to their families and children and let their careers take a backseat, they deserve respect for that choice too."

But this must be a "real choice, and not a social burden or dilemma that only women are subject to", Mr Ong said. Hence mothers should be given greater support from society, and men can do more to share household responsibilities with their wives.

Ms Junie Foo, chair of BoardAgender, an initiative by the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations, cited the "unconscious biases" of hirers who might assume a woman needs less pay because she has a husband.

Ms Jolene Tan, head of advocacy and research at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), said: "The World Economic Forum has predicted that it will take 170 years for the global pay gap to close, at current rates of progress. How much progress we can make, and how quickly, depends a lot on the political will to take the issue seriously."


Aware has also long advocated that those who perform domestic and care work should be materially supported, be it through caregiver allowances or Central Provident Fund credits.

Ms Trina Liang-Lin, president of the Singapore Committee for UN Women, hopes to see more transparent wage policies and communication, particularly in private firms.

She said: "Discussing pay is still viewed as taboo and unladylike, particularly for women. That psyche must end. Men usually never have a problem discussing pay."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2017, with the headline 'Mindsets must shift to close gender pay gap'. Subscribe