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Speech By Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Senior Minister Of State For Finance And Transport, At The Women's Leadership Forum, Wednesday, 19 November 2008 At Insead Auditorium

19 Nov 2008

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen, Good afternoon.

I am very pleased to join all of you today at the Women's Leadership Forum. This forum is an excellent platform to bring together women from various age groups and industries to share the challenges that we face in the workforce. More importantly, this forum gives due recognition to women's achievements and the significant role we have in the workforce.

Women's Progress in the Workforce

2. Previously, women had always faced challenges entering and progressing within the workforce, but the very presence of so many of you here, from the Women's Business Council at Motorola and the Women's Interest Network at American Express is testimony enough of the success that we women have made in the corporate world.

3. According to the Gender Empowerment Measure on inequalities between men's and women's opportunity in a country, Singapore ranks 16 out of 177 countries in the 2007/2008 UN Human Development Report. This reflects not only the progress that Singapore women have made in areas such as education and career, but also a shift in employers mindsets too - a shift towards providing equal opportunities to nurture the talent of female executives to help them realize their fullest potential.

4. I am very heartened to see many companies now providing inclusive environments for female employees where their ideas thrive, their opinions matter and their contributions recognized. Many of these companies are represented here today and I congratulate you on this accomplishment. When it comes to diversity in the workplace, I believe that we have moved beyond the notion of employment equity to recognizing women for and nurturing them in their unique capabilities and leadership strengths.

Women's Achievements in the Classroom and Boardroom

5. As regards education, many more women have completed tertiary education in traditionally male-dominated disciplines such as engineering, science, and mathematics. Also, the percentage of female students who manage to secure the much sought-after places in Singapore's universities and polytechnics has increased from 42% in the 90's to 50% currently.

6. The proportion of females in the workforce has also been rising from 37% in 1992 to 43% in 2007, with almost 40% holding managerial and professional positions. Despite our achievements in the classroom and workforce, there is still space for improvement; with very few female leaders found at the top echelons of organizations.

Balancing Family and Career

7. One of the greatest challenges that women in the workforce face today is work-life harmony. Although work-life harmony is equally applicable to all employees, women face the additional social pressure of having to manage our jobs with our multiple roles as a wife, a mother and a daughter. And with this social pressure comes guilt when a woman is forced to juggle her work around her family. As a mother myself, I know firsthand the difficulty in striking this balance.

8. Employers can help alleviate this stress by creating a work environment that is conducive for working mothers ? through flexible work arrangements such as flexi-work, telecommuting, project work and even consultancy work. On this note, I am delighted to see that many companies have begun making work-life harmony a strategic focus in order to retain talent. I hope that more employers will follow this example. Companies should not view this as a cost burden but an investment opportunity to ensure long term sustainability for both the company and the employee.

9. The Government is also doing our part to actively promote family friendly practices in the workplace. We implemented a slew of measures including the Enhanced Marriage and Parenthood Package which provides for 16 weeks of paid maternity leave and an increase in supply of childcare services. We also introduced a $20 million Work-Life-Works (W-O-W) fund to further incentivise family friendly policies in companies.

Changing Mindsets

10. Women have been working against stereotypes and traditional mindsets. We have achieved much but we need to continue to persevere so as to remain a contributor in the workforce, especially in the current period of economic uncertainty. Let's capitalize on our strengths to remain in circulation ? build on our ability to adapt and to be nimble.

11. To do this we also need the support of our families and our employers. As we move ahead, I urge more companies to embrace diversity, work-life harmony, and equal employment and leadership opportunities. I also urge companies to value women for their strengths and give due recognition to their achievements.

12. I hope that these points will provide sufficient ideas to generate discussion during the rest of the forum, thus contributing to advance the role of women in the workforce. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank American Express, INSEAD and Motorola for organizing today's forum to exchange insights on women in the workforce. Thank you.