Gender Equality In Singapore Startups: Are We There Yet?

We’ve had International Women’s Day come and go this month. A day where the accomplishments of women were (quietly) celebrated. Before the month ends, let us take a moment to reflect on how far women in Singapore have come.

Singapore was put third on the world map in 2014, where Singapore’s female CEO representation was the highest in Asia – Women held 15 percent of CEO positions. Despite this, female representation at the board level remained low at 7.9 percent, with the global average being 12.9 percent.

While Singapore may hold the highest female CEO representation, what about entrepreneurship in the booming tech industry?

Compass’ Startup Ecosystem Ranking 2015 Report ranked the best ecosystems in the world for entrepreneurs to start their businesses. Not surprisingly, the US held seven of the top 20 cities. More importantly, Singapore’s startup scene made the 10th spot, moving up seven spots since 2012. The city-state’s pro-business policies have contributed to its rise as an ideal place for startups.

The lion-city got above average marks on startup experience, funding, and market reach, with slightly lower marks on performance. This is because according to the report, talent is hard to find and hard to maintain in Singapore, due to issues of availability and quality.

Software engineers are the roles most in demand, but these jobs with “technical talent” remains a Boy’s Club. Even Google admitted to gender imbalances, stating that while 60 percent of its total workers are male, in the tech sector alone, that number increases to 83 percent.

It is pretty apparent to say that startup ecosystems are predominantly male saturated. Globally, there has been a growing trend of female entrepreneurs, increasing by 80 percent in the last three years. Also, in the top 20 ecosystems listed by Compass, 18 percent of startups have female founders – a number which has doubled since 2014.

Although we count the small victories in this huge battle for gender equality, we still need to continue to empower all women in the pursuit of economic parity.

Studies have shown that an unconscious bias continues to prevail in startup culture. Women working full time in the tech-industry make an average of 77 cents (USD) for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, which is pretty much equates to the nationwide average.

In Singapore, according to the 2014 Labour Force Statistics, women earn 10 percent less than men in all occupational categories (and in some cases more than 10 percent). Start ups are meant to have a non-traditional culture, and above all, be forward and social thinking – however, it is apparent that they fall short on the latter.

A Better Florist celebrates international women’s day💃 #flowerpower #abetterflorist

A photo posted by A Better Florist (@abetterflorist) on

We need men to join our army in this battle. People need to recognise that gender equality is beneficial to all, it’s not a zero-sum game.

Gender equality is a win-win situation. This applies to countries and companies. A lot of studies have shown the correlation between countries that are most gender equal and countries that rank highest on the happiness scale. It also turns out that gender equality benefits companies, as companies that are more gender equal generally have happier labour forces, lower job turnover, higher job satisfaction, higher rates of productivity and higher job retention.

So here’s a question for startups: how much is gender inequality costing you?

Many anecdotal evidence also point to the male dominated startup industry in Singapore. Traditional views of women’s roles as wives and mothers may still be holding women back from pursuing entrepreneurial or tech-based careers. In relationships, gender equality benefits all.

Studies have shown that the more egalitarian the relationship, the happier the relationship. As traditional Asian values are starting to evolve with modernisation, and it becomes increasingly common for women to be wage earners or breadwinners, we are starting to see men staying at home as primary caregivers.

Female tech icons such as Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) and Marissa Mayer (Yahoo!) continue to pave the way for the millennial generation. They, and others after them, open up necessary conversations that all genders engage in to effectively address the nature patriarchal structures in place. Only then can we begin to build a truly inclusive society.

International Women’s Day may just be an annual event, but in reality, the battle for gender equality continues to be fought every day. We must start properly and actively acknowledging the many strengths women are able to contribute not only in board rooms, meetings, and offices but in the general society as well.

Content By: Hanako Shimada from A Better Florist (@ABetterFlorist on socials), an online flower delivery startup in Singapore.
Cover Photo: A Better Florist, used with permission.


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