Singapore needs to work harder on gender pay equality, experts warn

Data published this month shows pay gap has barely reduced in the past 10 years

An expert from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has told employers in the city state that they need to work harder to ensure they pay women and men equally for the same for level of work.

The call, from associate professor Lawrence Loh, director of the Centre for Governance, Institutions & Organisations (CGIO) at the NUS Business School, comes after data released earlier this month showed Singapore’s gender pay gap has not improved in the last decade.

In 2006, Singapore’s median gross monthly income for men was about SGD2,452 (USD1,810) – 19 per cent higher than the median income for women at SGD2,053 (USD1,515), according to a study by New York-based data resource group Value Penguin.

The report said that, judging by figures collated from Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower, 10 years later (in 2016), the gap was still at 18 per cent. Men, on average, earn SGD3,991 (USD2,946), compared to the average women’s wage of SGD3,382 (USD2,496).

A real overhaul of pay is needed to tackle this long-term problem, Loh told People Management.

Business leaders need to review their hiring process, promotions, and training and development policies, he said, ensuring that “women with similar skillsets, industry experience and educational qualifications receive wages comparable with their male counterparts”.

Singaporean employers’ failure to solve gender pay gap issues over the past decade was a “deep-rooted issue across different strata and sectors”, said Professor Loh.

The established network of directors in the country is male-dominated and there is a perceived shortage of qualified or suitable female candidates taking up senior positions, which is aggravated by the “patriarchal nature of Asian cultures and societies” with males dominating board positions still the norm, he said.

To increase women representation on boards, Professor Loh suggested organisations implement policies to encourage the hiring and promotion of more female leaders, incorporating board training and talent development programmes to prepare them for senior positions. Adopting “best practices for board nomination and appointments by looking beyond the traditional network of directors and using external search firms” can help, he added.

Joni Simpson, a Thailand-based International Labour Organisation (ILO) senior specialist on gender, equality and non-discrimination, said Singapore was not alone across south-east Asia in having a gender pay gap, which is caused by a “mix of factors”. These include existing gender inequalities in education; onerous and inflexible working hours; and some traditions of male employment in certain sectors, such as mining. Moreover, there is “discrimination and gender stereotyping at play”, she added.

Women tend to be overrepresented in informal employment and low-paying jobs across south-east Asia, Simpson said, and “evidence shows that occupations generally held by women tend to have lower wages and are undervalued – than sectors dominated by men.” Women are also more likely than men to be found in part-time and precarious work situations with less access to skills upgrading and promotions.

Additionally, the gender pay gap tends to widen around the age when workers are having families, with women leaving work to care for children rather than men. This often results in a “wage premium” for men – and a “motherhood penalty”, with drastic impacts on women’s jobs and pay, added Simpson.

To remedy this, she suggested that Singapore and other south-east Asian countries fully implement ILO’s Equal Remuneration Convention No 100, with its emphasis on equal pay “for work of equal value”.

She also advised that employers conduct wage transparency policies and establish gender neutral job evaluations; that governments extend minimum wages to sectors employing many women, including domestic work; and policies and programmes should be provided that help both men and women to better manage their family responsibilities.