Empowering Women

Being a Woman in the Workplace: International Women’s Day Survey 2017

There has been a lot of talk about women being sexually harassed in the workplace in recent months (here’s one from The Guardian) and how the gender pay gap still exists. So this International Women’s Day, which was on 8th March, we embarked on a mission to find out what working women in Singapore faced in the workplace. In total, we surveyed 278 women both in person in the Central Business District and through online distribution, and here are our findings!


On being a female in the workplace

sexist comments

Sexism is a form of discrimination on the basis of gender. An example would be making sexist remarks to someone of the opposite gender, e.g. “get back into the kitchen!”. In Singapore, 30.2% (3 in 10) of respondents had received sexist comments in their workplace.


being female has hindered career progression

A shocking 29.9% of women felt that being female has hindered their career advancement possibilities. That’s almost 3 in 10 females! One person said that “sometimes the work I do makes people assume less of me because I’m female” and another felt that she needed “to prove one’s capabilities and independence” because she’s a woman.


different treatment because im female

19.8% of women felt that they are treated differently at work because they are female. One mentioned that people took her comments less seriously because she has not gone through certain things a man might have. More severely, another woman reported that she was constantly overlooked for promotions even though she was the highest evaluated employee in her team.

32% of women surveyed felt pressured to take fewer leave days, even when they are entitled to them. A mum said that her “bosses weren’t happy” when she took medical leave during pregnancy. Many were also afraid that it would affect their work performance. One mentioned that “I have to work way harder to be taken seriously than my male coworkers.”


While on the topic of leave, 78.8% of respondents (around 3 in 4) think companies should give period/menstruation leave. Some women experience very bad periods, like how one puts it, “every month for a week – [it’s] a battle to go to work when I have my period because every inch of my body just aches.” Some others feel that yes, we should be given menstruation leave, but “something be given to the men as well for equality.”


On motherhood

There was a general negative sentiment on being pregnant and having children. Most felt that it is a trade-off between being a mother and career advancements. 56.1% of women, of which 16.7% are mothers or mothers-to-be, felt that having children hinders their career growth. 60.4% (that’s 3 out of 5!) of the women surveyed felt that being pregnant will affect their careers and possibilities for advancement, as utilising medical leave or annual leave for pregnancy might affect work performance.


On sexual harassment

sexual harassment

In the workplace, 16.2% of women surveyed have faced sexual harassment. According to AWARE,

“Sexual harassment involves threatening, abusive or insulting words, behaviours or communications of a sexual nature. Such behaviours may be actionable if a) it is meant to cause you harassment, alarm or distress or b) is likely to cause you these feelings and you heard or saw the offending behaviours or words.”

This is a very startling number because there really shouldn’t be any incidences of sexual harassment at all.

A few months back, many women came forward to share their accounts of being sexually harassed by 500 Startups founder Dave McClure, and this only happened 3 years after the incident. Since then, many other reports have surfaced over sexual harassment in the workplace. Uber has also fired more than 20 employees after cases of sexual harassment were reported at the beginning of the year.

Closer to home, an article by Tech in Asia written in July 2017 recounted the incidences of women who had faced sexual harassment in the Singapore startup ecosystem.


There’s still much that we can improve on

Our key findings:

  1. Sexism is still prevalent in the workplace. Women are not getting the same respect that men do and feel the need to constantly prove themselves. They are also on the receiving end of sexist comments that undermine their capabilities.
  2. Women see having children as an obstacle to career advancement. This may lead them to postpone/avoid having children. This may stem from societal pressure to play the role of the primary caregiver.
  3. A significant proportion of women have faced sexual harassment in the workplace.

Results from this survey show that a lot can still be done to overcome sexism in the workplace, for instance, to stop treating women as the inferior sex and to bridge the gender wage gap. In terms of social behaviour, men and women alike should not exhibit acts of superiority toward the other gender.

What can I do?

As a man in the workplace:

  • Don’t make sexist comments to your female colleagues
  • Don’t sexually harass your female colleagues – understand that small acts (eg. physical touch) are considered sexual harassment
  • Look out for your colleagues’ behaviour. If you see your male colleagues sexually harassing a female colleague, step in and stop the behaviour
  • Respect your female colleagues as much as you would respect your male colleagues

As a woman in the workplace:

  • Immediately go to your supervisor/HR manager if you’re being sexually harassed. You have every right to be safe and comfortable in your workplace
  • Step in and help your fellow females out if you see them being sexually harassed
  • Don’t sexually harass your male colleagues

If you’ve experienced or are experiencing workplace sexual harassment, do not keep mum and suffer alone. Please reach out to AWARE’s hotline at 1800 774 5935 (Mon-Fri, 3pm-9.30pm) or email them at helpline@aware.org.sg. You may also find out more here: http://www.mom.gov.sg/faq/workplace-harassment.

As a business owner/HR manager:

  • Make sure to see beyond gender and treat your employees equally
  • Offer equal pay to males and females in the same role
  • Consider implementing menstruation leave
  • Investigate sexual harassment accusations seriously and take the appropriate actions against the offender
  • Offer a fair maternity and childcare leave and do not penalise those who take it
  • Come up with remote working options for those who need to take care of their children



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