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Speech by Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Minister in Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Finance and Transport, at the Young Women Leaders' Day on 22 May 2009, 10.20am, The Rock Auditorium

22 May 2009

My parliamentary colleague, Mr Michael Palmer,

Mr Martin Tan, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Halogen Foundation (Singapore),

Mrs Low Ay Nar, Principal, Singapore Chinese Girls' School,

Ladies and Gentlemen, Good morning.


I am very happy to be here today for Halogen Foundation's inaugural National Young Women Leaders' Day celebrations. I am really pleased to see so many young girls seated before me. I know that some of you here are only in primary school and may have many thoughts running through your mind as I stand before you - isn't it too early to talk about leadership? For those who are older, you might wonder - how does one become a good leader? And of course, some of you might think - let's see if she passes us some useful tips about being a good leader.

2. Before I share my experiences, I would like to say that it's never too early to be a leader! My daughter taught me that ? once when I went to pick her up from childcare, I saw a line of kids listening intently to her as they were playing, and they were much older and much bigger than she was. So, have you ever influenced a friend? Have you ever persuaded or convinced someone to listen to you? If your answer is yes, then you are a potential leader! Because leadership is all about influence.

Challenges Faced by Women Leaders

3. Let me now share with you some of my experiences in dealing with the two main challenges that women leaders still face today.

Dealing with Traditional Mindsets

4. One of the main challenges women leaders face today is not bias, but having to deal with traditional mindsets in a male-dominated environment. When I first became a Member of Parliament, most of the grassroots leaders I encountered were men who had to get used to working with a woman MP. For instance, they had to get used to using ?Ma'am? instead of ?Sir? at meetings. In fact, even till today, when I go for overseas meetings, occasionally the people I meet have expressed surprise when they realise I am not a man. In some cases, they will walk right past me, looking for their male counterpart. At meals, they continue to sit us women together. Some hotels insist on addressing me as Mr Lim.

5. Women have come a long way from the days when most of our leadership was centered at home. Across the years, we have been working against stereotypes and traditional mindsets and as a result, the proportion of females in the Singapore workforce has doubled from 28% in 1970 to 56% in 2008 , with almost 40% holding managerial and professional positions. Despite these successes, it is never easy to completely eradicate such traditional mindsets. However, we should not be discouraged by this and must continue to persevere to pave the way for future generations of women leaders such as yourselves. We must capitalize on our strengths, be nimble and be open to taking up new and challenging tasks.

Balancing Family and Career

6. The second challenge that women face today is work-life balance. Although work-life balance is equally applicable to men, women leaders face the additional social pressure of having to manage our jobs with our other 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 and the demands of her leadership role round her family.

7. We all strike our own balance depending on our own goals, and the stage of life we are at. There's no black or white point for which demands are nicely countered. Hence, it is neither wrong for a woman to continue working even after having children nor for a graduate mother to give up her career to be a full-time housewife. These are personal decisions, a large part of which is obviously shaped by what companies do.

8. It is heartening to see more employers introducing telecommuting and flexi-work arrangements which have made work environments more conducive for working mothers today. The Government has also been actively promoting family-friendly practices in the workplace through the slew of measures introduced last year as part of Enhanced Marriage and Parenthood Package. These provide additional assistance to help women cope with their competing roles. However, at the end of the day, women have to ensure that we do not overburden ourselves. We have to constantly examine what is important to us and be mindful of what is practically possible, but without short-changing ourselves.


9. Leadership is by and large gender-neutral and has to do with one being competent, convicted about his or her role and responsibilities and being dynamic enough to inspire and lead a group of people. With education and changing mindsets, society has given us women more opportunities to excel beyond the wildest dreams of our predecessors.

10. For those of you who assume positions of leadership either in your schools, your workplace or even politics in future, let me leave you with the following thoughts about what leadership means to me - leadership is all about

(1) Love for the cause, the mission and your people;

(2) Encouragement to enable all to excel and yet work as a team, through good times and bad;

(3) Accountability for decisions, no passing of the buck;

(4) Dedication and commitment to the responsibilities and the people you lead;

(5) Experimentation to pave the way for innovation and reaching new heights;

(6) Respect for each team member.

11. In conclusion, let me thank the Halogen Foundation Singapore and the Singapore Chinese Girls' School for organising this event which celebrates the role that young ladies such as yourselves, our leaders of tomorrow, will play in shaping the future. I hope you enjoy the up-coming discussions with the panel of successful Singaporean women leaders.

12. I wish you all a great day ahead. Thank you.