Saturday, October 30, 2004

What working women want 

The Straits Times reports that only one out of two women in Singapore works. Excerpt:

Only 1 woman in 2 here works
When it comes to being family-friendly, Singapore firms lag behind those in developed countries. One indication is the lower number of working women here as more of them tend to quit their jobs after they have children. Only 54 per cent of women in Singapore work, compared to 80 per cent in Norway, 73 per cent in Finland and 609 per cent in the United States.

This led Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, to renew a call to firms here to develop a pro-family culture so they can attract and retain employees... [A]t a seminar...to discuss family-friendly work practices yesterday...there was no lack of role models to learn from as Norwegian and Singaporean firms shared how they strike a balance between work and family life by doing a variety of means. These include allowing employees to work from home, taking time off to care for children or work flexible hours...

For Norway, its slew of family-friendly policies such as 10-month maternity leave and 10-day childcare leave, as well as an entrenched flexible work culture, have paid off. Employees are more productive — not only at work but also in childbearing as fertility rates have risen.

However...Dr Balakrishnan noted the Republic has chosen not to use legislation to get companies to be more family-friendly. “We do not want to introduce excessive rigidities to our labour laws and hence affect the flexibility of our labour market,” he explained...
Some people say that in Singapore, you either work 110 percent or you don’t work at all. Hardly a conducive working environment for mothers.

I can understand why the government is not using legislation to enforce family-friendly practices at the work-place. Apart from introducing rigidities and distorting the labour market, legislation also creates administrative hassle and, unfortunately, also often don’t work. In some companies, demanding bosses will discriminate against employees who choose schemes like work-from-home, flexible hours and extended leave when it comes to promotions, bonuses and raises. As the Norwegians noted, culture counts.

Having said that, many other companies are not offering such schemes only because of inertia. Legislation can make a positive difference in such companies. The government should not write off legislation as a solution.


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