Change needed to close gender pay gap

This article is more than 12 months old

Minister says shift in social mindsets is crucial, places importance on 'freedom of choice'

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

"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 the expectations placed on women."

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

At the event, the self-funded organisation launched the #stoptherobbery campaign, which will work with government bodies and private companies to raise awareness of the gender pay gap in Singapore.

The Straits Times reported last month that the gross monthly income of women was 19 per cent lower than men in 2006. A decade later, this dropped by only one percentage point to 18 per cent last year.

Mr Ong said he is 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," Mr Ong said.


"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."

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, a Singapore Council of Women's Organisations initiative, 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."

Ms Trina Liang-Lin, president of the Singapore Committee for UN Women, hopes to see more transparent wage policies and communication, particularly in private companies, as well as more research and data to spotlight the issue of unequal pay.

"Discussing pay is still viewed as taboo and unladylike, particularly for women. That psyche must end.

"Men usually never have a problem discussing pay, and it is usually one of the first things that is brought up during a performance review or job interview," she said.