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SDG 10 and 5: Diversity and Gender in Singapore

by Sze Zen Wong  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | 19 October 2017

s 867655912578The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs or Global Goals) are a set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all to be achieved over a 15-year period. The private sector, governments, civil society and individual citizens have a role to collectively realise these goals by 2030. In this article, we focus on two of the 17 Global Goals that businesses are in prime position to steer a positive change, specifically with respect to HR practices and policies.

 

Diverse, inclusive and fair employment to achieve Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

 

One of the targets laid out to reduce inequality is by empowering and promoting the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status. As of June 2016, the Ministry of Manpower reported a 2.1% unemployment rate. Despite an increase of 0.3% from the previous quarter, staff recruitment and retention remain a material issue for companies in Singapore. Aside from compliance with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, a diverse, inclusive and fair HR policy enables an organisation to harness talent overlooked by discriminatory employment practices.

 


Image credit: Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices

 

Disability at work

A recent survey conducted by the National Council of Social Services (NCSS) of 1,400 Singapore citizens aged 18 - 69 found that a third of the respondents said that they would not employ people with disabilities if they were an employer1 .

 

Unconscious bias presents itself in many forms and excluding people with disability in the talent pool is a lost opportunity to recruit qualified candidates. For example, a deaf client servicing associate can attend to customers over email or live chat just as well as a person without a hearing or speech disability. As our work places evolve free and readily available chat systems, e.g. Skype or Google chat, are useful tools for communication among co-workers that can break down perceived barriers.


As of 20133, it was reported that 4,500 employers hiring 5,700 persons with disability have benefitted from the government subsidy Special Employment Credit (SEC) but to date, there is no definitive statistics on the number of persons with disability in full-time and part-time employment. Fast-food chain KFC has employed 300 deaf employees over the last 10 years in Singapore and ensures that staff attend sign language classes2. Uniqlo started hiring intellectually disabled employees in 2012. Starbucks has committed to hire at least 25% of its team through the Autism Resource Centre and has noticed exceptional accuracy and attention to detail displayed by employees recruited through the centre.

 

In the recent CSR Asia Summit, a session dedicated to this topic discussed current available research on disability in the workplace, case studies and approaches to support business and employees to build an inclusive workplace. Participants reported a need for more support, guidance and information on managing disability in the workforce. We anticipate that new activities and support like the ILO Global Business and Disability Network will only increase as will legislation that requires companies to hire a more inclusive workforce.

 

In Singapore, it should be noted that there are various Government initiatives to promote the employment of persons with disabilities. The Special Employment Credit (SEC) provides salary subsidy to employers hiring employees with a disability (and older workers). Through the Open Door Programme(ODP), Singapore-based or registered companies can apply for funding support to hire, train and integrate persons with disabilities. SG Enable works with voluntary welfare organisation (VWOs) partners to provide job placement and support services to persons with disability.

 

Equal remuneration and opportunity to reach Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

 

Businesses can make a substantive contribution towards gender equality in the workplace by removing any gender-based pay gaps and providing equal opportunity. The Labour Force in Singapore 2015 reportreleased by the Ministry of Manpower in January 2016 shows unfavourable income disparity to women except for clerical support when compared with their male counterparts in similar occupations. This trend persists for employees who are degree holders from the age of 30 onwards.

 

MEDIAN GROSS MONTHLY INCOME (EXCLUDING CPF) FROM WORK OF FULL-TIME EMPLOYED RESIDENTS AGED FIFTEEN YEARS AND OVER BY OCCUPATION AND SEX, JUNE 2015

Occupation

Male
(S$)

Female
(S$)

Difference (%)

Managers & Administrators 
10,000
8,404
-19%
Working Proprietors 
3,938
3,000
-31%
Professionals
6,336
5,417
-17%
Associate Professionals & Technicians
3,595
3,500
-3%
Clerical Support Workers
2,182
2,491
12%
Service & Sales Workers 
2,025
1,625
-25%
Craftsmen & Related Trades Workers 
2,383
1,571
-52%
Plant & Machine Operators & Assemblers
1,950
1,400
-39%
Cleaners, Labourers & Related Workers
1,300
1,138
-14%

Source: The Labour Force in Singapore 2015 report

 

MEDIAN GROSS MONTHLY INCOME (EXCLUDING EMPLOYER CPF) FROM WORK OF FULL-TIME EMPLOYED RESIDENTS BY HIGHEST QUALIFICATION ATTAINED, AGE AND SEX, JUNE 2015

Age group

Degree Qualification

Male
(S$)

Female
(S$)

Difference (%)

20-24
2,600
3,000
13%
25-29
3,800
3,800
0%
30 - 34
5,820
5,250
-11%
35 - 39
7,496
6,000
-25%
40 - 44
8,750
7,083
-24%
45 - 49
10,000
7,875
-27%
50 - 54
10,097
8,005
-26%
55 - 59
9,750
9,005
-8%
60 & Over
8,667
6,650
-30%

Source: The Labour Force in Singapore 2015 report

 

Level of seniority, which are not shown in these tables above, could be a factor for the disparity. The latest survey findings by The Economist Intelligence Unit sponsored by HSBC released in March found that 56% of Singapore professional women believe women are under-represented in senior management, compared to 44% for both Indonesia and Malaysia. Within the sustainability/CSR profession in Asia, the findings in CSR Asia’s latest report reflect this as reality.

 
Gender profile of CSR professionals in Asia.

 

Compared to the 2015 average of 9.5% that the Women on board Diversity Action Committee Singapore report on SGX-listed companies’ boards, Singtel’s gender diversity is a marked improvement where a third of its Board are women. Almost a third of top management are women compared to the Singapore average of 25%. Two-thirds of the management committee of the Singtel Group are also women. According to a Credit Suisse research report4, companies with at least a woman on the board tend to clock better corporate performance. Companies where women comprised at least 15% of senior management delivered 15.3% returns on equity, 2.3% more than the 13% by companies where women made up less than 10% of senior management. CSR Asia’s The Role of the Private Sector in Women’s Economic Empowerment in Asia publication help companies see the value in investing in the economic empowerment of women in their workplaces and communities and offers guidance on how companies can do so.

 

With a female labour force participation rate in Singapore of 60.4% as of 2015 compared to the national rate of 68.3% (male participation rate was 76.7%), there is ample opportunity for businesses to make meaningful improvements on gender equality. Studies consistently show that equal pay increases productivity.

 

The issue of gender equality and diversity in the workplace are as wide ranging and manifold as there are opportunities for businesses to create a positive impact. Gaps and strengths can be identified starting with an internal review of HR practices and policies. 

 

1. Employers urged to see past people's disabilities to harness true potential, The Business Times, 3 June 2016.
2. 46 Firms Lauded For Hiring Disabled Workers – The Straits Times, reposted in STJobs, 24 March 2012.
3. More firms keen to hire those with disabilities - The Straits Times, 19 April 2014.
4. Board gender diversity improving in Singapore and world: Credit Suisse – The Business Times, 27 September 2016