Speech at Great Women of Our Time Awards 2012
Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State (Health , Manpower), Four Seasons Ballroom
Ladies and Gentlemen
- It is great to be invited to an event that recognizes the achievements of our modern, Singaporean women. The Great Women of Our Time Awards, which is in its 7th year now, showcases women and their outstanding leadership and performance in their professions and in public service. More than that, the Awards is an opportunity for all of us - women leaders from all sectors, business and arts communities and charitable organizations – to come together to celebrate.
- I am glad we can unequivocally show our appreciation towards the contributions of women and showcase their positive examples for many others to emulate. This is something we have taken for granted as a developed country – in many other parts of the world, there are women fighting for their voices to be heard. I am glad to be able to stand here to openly and proudly say a big “congratulations!” to all our nominees who have achieved much and to say how proud I am to see women breaking frontiers.
Inclusive Workplaces for Women
- One issue that I want to mention here revolves around women in the workforce. We are fortunate that the opportunities for women have grown over the years. In fact, there are more of us in the workforce today – some 60% are females in the overall Singapore workforce, compared to 52% a decade ago.1 This was largely due to an increase in the number of older female workers from ages 55 to 64 in the workforce.
- The Ministry and its tripartite partners will continue to work closely for inclusive and progressive workplaces to help women who want to be part of the workforce return and contribute. So how can we do so?
- Employers need to ensure they are fair and inclusive. Being fair employers will widen the pool of candidates that employers can recruit from, increasing their chances of finding the best person for the job. Employers can do their part and tap on the tools available.
- For example, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) has a start-up kit on creating inclusive workplaces. This toolkit shares best practices and useful tips on engaging and retaining female employees. These include ideas on how to provide flexible work arrangements, equal opportunities as men so that they can chart out a career path for themselves and a safe working environment for women to work in, amongst many others.2 As we encourage more women to re-enter the workforce, it is important for employers to put in place fair, responsible, merit-base and inclusive employment practices.
- The Government is also supporting this in a big way. We have the Flexi-Works! Scheme which is intended to facilitate the return of back-to-work individuals. Since its introduction in 2007, more than 350 companies have tapped on the Flexi-Works Scheme with more than $3.6 million of the funds disbursed.
- Some of you may also be familiar with the WoW! Fund. This initiative was meant to defray costs incurred by organizations while introducing Work-Life measures, such as telecommuting and flexible working hours. We have seen progressive employers taking this up. Since its launch in 2004, more than 840 companies have come forward to tap on the Work-Life Works! (WOW!) Fund. In total, about $14.8 million has been disbursed.
- WDA comes in to aid workers who require assistance to adapt to a fast changing economy. We have a wide range of Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) courses which women could tap on to quickly upskill themselves to stay relevant. They could then tap on the extensive job databases of our five Community Development Councils (CDCs) to search for suitable positions. NTUC’s Women Development Secretariat (WDS) is also another partner that proactively organizes job facilitation events, specifically for women. They have also been organizing work-life integration related events such as their “little ones @ work”, where employees get to bring their children to work for a day.
- But ultimately, I believe for an inclusive work environment to be sustainable, apart from funding and initiatives from the Government, it takes the support of everyone at the workplace. The employers will have to nurture an open and responsible culture to reap its maximum benefits. Employees, on the other hand, must also take responsibility for their performance when they are entrusted with flexibility at work.
Women as Health Promotion Champions
- Another issue I deal with regularly, by virtue of my health portfolio, is the role of women as health champions. Women have an important role to play in health promotion. All of us here, whether a mother, a wife or a daughter, often decide the food cooked at home. We all have the power to create a ‘ripple effect’ to influence our family members to lead healthy lifestyles.
- But apart from being health champions, I am also concerned about championing women’s health. While women generally fare better than men in key health outcome indicators like obesity, smoking rates and chronic diseases, there are some areas for improvement, especially when it comes to awareness and screening. This is particularly important in ensuring timely medical intervention. For example, only 4 in 10 Singaporean women aged 50 to 69 years undergo regular breast cancer screening compared to the average OECD rates of more than 6 in 10 for females of the same age group.
- To champion women’s health, we launched the Women’s Health Advisory Committee (WHAC) three weeks ago. This committee, which I chair, brings female leaders and advocates from the people, private and public sectors together. My members come from all walks of life, and this allows us to tap on their depth of experience and formulate strategies to address key health concerns that affect women. This includes mental health, especially for younger women, and cancer screening for older women.
- The WHAC aims to construct a targeted, structured and long-term Women’s Healthcare Plan, to chart various priority health areas for women across their entire lifespan. This will, in turn, help the Health Promotion Board form more holistic, sustainable health-promoting programmes to effectively address key women health concerns. My committee will also work with other community groups to form a Women’s Network, to extend our outreach to women in the workplace and the community. I encourage all of you to join us on our journey in improving the health of your loved ones in Singapore.
- Whether an award winner or not, everyone here is a Great Woman in your own right. I am glad to have this platform to meet all of you – women trailblazers who are paving the way for future generations; women who quietly go around making a difference to the lives of others and who are indeed role models for other Singapore women.
- Dr Ann Tan - who was a nominee from the Education & Public Service category in 2008, and one of the judges for the awards - is one such role model. She is a mother of three teenage girls and runs her own private practice. Amidst her hectic schedule, she had made time for the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation (SCWO) and was its immediate past president. This year, Dr Tan was also awarded the National Day Awards Public Service Medal.
- Just last month, Dr Tan’s daughter, Natasha, was one of five students who organized a fundraising dinner for HCA Hospice Care, which provides dignified palliative care for patients approaching the end of life. I’m sure she has been inspired to follow her mother’s footsteps in public service. It is encouraging to see our nation’s youths taking such initiatives, and I am pleased that women like Dr Tan are setting good examples for our next generation. The moral of the story? Do not underestimate the power of your example. I certainly hope to hear more of such positive, inspirational stories.
- Congratulations to all of the winners tonight!
- Thank you.
Source: Labour Force Survey 2011, MOM (Released on 31 Jan 2012)
2 Creating an Inclusive Workplace