Trailblazing women breaking barriers to empower a new generation

I am woman, watch me soar, into the future, to the fore. Two among the many young Singapore women determined to carve out a path for themselves in society have their say in the final instalment of our three-part salute to SG women

Dr Lavenniah Annadoray, research fellow at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Singapore Muslim Women's Association (PPIS) president Hazlina Abdul Halim. PHOTOS: MOHD KHALID BABA, PPIS

She puts her 'Stem' on research

Some embark on careers to pursue their passions. Others choose jobs akin to their course of study at school. For Dr Lavenniah Annadoray, 29, the two pursuits aligned with her fascination with molecular biology as an undergraduate at the University of Sydney six years ago.

"It was the epiphany that we were all walking molecular machines that truly fascinated me," she says.

Now a research fellow at the National University of Singapore's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, Dr Annadoray aims to design a drug to easily treat and potentially reverse the course of diseases.

Dr Lavenniah Annadoray is a research fellow at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine Cardiovascular Disease Translational Research Programme. PHOTO: MOHD KHALID BABA

Dr Annadoray's research on ribonucleic acid (RNA) therapeutics - medications that use circular RNA to control gene expression - will form the basis of this new drug. Among other uses, RNAs carry instructions to cells for making proteins, aid chemical reactions and help to turn genes on and off.

She explains that the drug, tailored to people who struggle to stick to daily medications, will have longer-lasting effects in smaller doses. This could mean, for example, less frequent injections for people who take daily or weekly injections as part of an ongoing treatment.

Dr Annadoray is also working on targeting microRNAs, a class of RNAs that influences the expression of certain genes that contribute to disease progression. Her goal with this project is to be able to reverse disease progression.

In addition to the complexities of her research, Dr Annadoray also has to manage challenges as a woman in a male-dominated industry.

A 2018 survey by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research found that women make up less than a third, or 30 per cent, of all research scientists and engineers in Singapore.

"At times, your voice can be very easily silenced during important conversations, and your opinions may be trivialised, which can impact one's self-esteem," she says.

My vision for women in Singapore…
Is for us to break gender stereotypes, feel empowered to make a difference and have the confidence to take the lead in science.

I want to lend my voice to…
Inspiring and encouraging young women to realise their full potential, feel bold and be confident enough to push the boundaries of research for the betterment of mankind.

One thing I hope to change:
Gender bias. We need to acknowledge that women are as competent and capable as men. I believe that with equal opportunity and the right mindset, more women would be motivated to pursue their passions.

She speaks for those who can't

Madam Hazlina Abdul Halim, 35, is a familiar face in local media known for her work as a television presenter and journalist. She is now also the voice for women's advocacy in Singapore.

In December, Madam Hazlina was appointed president of the Singapore Muslim Women's Association (PPIS), a non-profit organisation that provides family services, student care and early childhood education for women and families.

Prior to her current appointment, Madam Hazlina Abdul Halim was appointed as the vice-president of PPIS in 2016. PHOTO: PPIS

Her appointment follows an illustrious career spanning 15 years in media and journalism, a three-year stint as a Temasek Polytechnic lecturer in broadcast journalism, and her current role in the public affairs section of the United States Embassy in Singapore.

Madam Hazlina first joined PPIS in 2012 as "a young, homesick professional with a burning desire to give back". She had just returned from Australia, where she had spent six years pursuing her undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

Among the many initiatives that she has championed with PPIS over the years, her most memorable has been pioneering the PPIS Research and Engagement Department (RED) with her team.

Set up in 2016, RED is a committee that seeks to better understand the women that PPIS helps through conversations and dialogue sessions with government leaders and experts. For instance, Madam Hazlina led the committee's first Online Conversations on Women Development for the Muslim community in December.

"This was pivotal for PPIS. As the voice of local Muslim women, we need to facilitate such essential discourse to support our women in an evolving social landscape."

This is in line with the ongoing Conversations on Singapore Women's Development dialogues launched by the Government in September to gather feedback and suggestions for women's progress in Singapore.

My vision for women in Singapore is…
One where women have equal access to choices, opportunities and support to achieve their aspirations. No woman should be left behind.

I want to lend my voice to…
Amplifying the importance of diversity and inclusion in workplaces. Beyond companies and the government, everyone has a part to play.

Family values, female role models, education, advocacy, policies and legislation are all important to ensure fair treatment and equal access, regardless of gender, race, religion and nationality. This ecosystem of support is fundamental as a catalyst to our women's development.

One thing I'm hopeful about:
I'm optimistic about men's attitude towards women. I believe there are more male allies now who truly and fully appreciate a woman's worth; the value she brings at the workplace and at home.

I also call for male allies to inspire more men to share caregiving responsibilities and play a more active role in making the house a home.

Her future, His support

Mr Loh Boon Chye co-chairs the Council for Board Diversity, which was formed in 2019. PHOTO: ST FILE

He's for more women in the boardroom

More organisations are promoting board diversity in the workplace, with the proportion of women on the boards of Singapore's top 100 listed companies doubling since 2014.

As co-chair of the Council for Board Diversity, Mr Loh Boon Chye, 56, feels hopeful about this progress. "Advocating for board gender diversity in firms in Singapore has received top-level attention."

Mr Loh, who is also the chief executive officer of the Singapore Exchange (SGX), heads the Council for Board Diversity alongside Tote Board chairman Mildred Tan.

His work with the council, which comprises 11 women and nine men, includes studying and promoting women's representation on the boards of organisations across sectors, including SGX-listed companies, statutory boards and charities.

He shares that companies can build more diverse boards by increasing female participation on boards and nominating committees and implementing policies on board diversity. "Having women on boards is a hallmark of a progressive, well-managed board."

The key to improving board diversity, he adds, is to invest more time and effort in grooming, nurturing and supporting high-potential male and female employees to take on executive leadership roles.

Mr Bryan Tan with his wife, Adriana, and three children. They are also expecting a newborn in March 2021. PHOTO: CENTRE FOR FATHERING

He's for 'invested' dads

As more women are working, men will need to step up and do their part at home to help women who want to return to or stay in the workforce.

This is what drives chief executive of the Centre for Fathering Bryan Tan, 45.

He joined the non-profit, which encourages fathers to be more active and involved with their children, in 2016 after retiring from a 21-year career with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

He wanted to "invest fully" in his three children and spend more time with his wife, who was retrenched within the same week of his retirement from the SAF.

While the organisation has helped to raise awareness of the importance of active and involved fathering, Mr Tan believes that more can be done. "Working fathers can help their wives who want to be stay-at-home mums by being a caring and understanding husband, and an involved father," he says.

"Fathers with wives who wish to pursue their career aspirations should help to take on more parenting duties and household chores, while accepting that their careers might have to be a second priority."

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