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IN FOCUS: Beyond diversity quotas and anti-discrimination laws, can Singapore embrace gender equality at the workplace?

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PARENTAL LEAVE AND FLEXIBILITY FOR CAREGIVERS 

Parental leave and flexibility for caregivers at work are priorities for women in Singapore, experts said, with calls to improve caregiver support and paternity leave. 

While it was common to ask potential female candidates whether they were planning to get married and have children 10 to 20 years ago, this practice seems to be less common these days, said Mrs Chue. 

“Because when you’re planning to have a family, they will think twice because you’re going to go on maternity leave,” she added. 

Mrs Chue is now a mother to a 17-year-old and 18-year-old. She was “quite new” to the company when she found out that she was pregnant with her second child. 

Since her children are a year apart, she went on maternity leave twice in two years. 

“Nobody in the company or my bosses said anything, but I felt bad myself – that I had to be away for so long because I was pregnant. Because I felt like, in those days, how can you be on maternity leave two years in a row?” she added, acknowledging that her mindset then was different from now. 

“I had to ask my boss out for lunch and announce that I’m pregnant again. I was like ‘I’m so sorry, I actually feel bad that I’m pregnant again’,” she recounted with a chuckle. 

“My bosses were happy for me, but my colleagues must be thinking they would have to take over my projects.” 

For Mrs Tan, who gave birth about six months ago, her immediate boss, who is male, has been understanding about her maternity or urgent leave needs. Other higher-ups who are female have also been understanding about her situation, she shared. 

Earlier this year, when Singapore saw more than 10,000 COVID-19 cases each day, she expressed her concerns to her boss about returning to the office because of her very young child at home. 

“He understood and told me to just work from home for the time being. When the COVID-19 cases come down and when I’m ready I can just go back to the office,” she said, adding that she is still working from home now. 

Most companies CNA spoke to have provided flexible working arrangements to all employees, including parents, and some have gone beyond Singapore’s parental leave requirements, with some providing the same amount of leave to new fathers and new mothers. 

In Singapore, working mothers are eligible for 16 weeks of paid maternity leave while fathers are entitled to two weeks of paid paternity leave, as mandated by MOM. 

Swedish automation technology company ABB has doubled its paternity leave offer in Singapore, and rolled out a global parental leave programme this year, said its Singapore country managing director Jerrica Chooi. 

The company’s new parental leave program is gender neutral, so a parent can take 12 weeks of paid leave if they are the primary caregiver, and this applies to all employees who have a baby or adopt a child, she added. 

The company has also just started reviewing its benefits system to make it more inclusive, Ms Chooi said, noting that differentiation by employee characteristics may indirectly discriminate against some groups. 

“In general, men tend to take fewer days off so we want the dads in our company to know that we will support their family needs and it’s okay to be away on paternity leave,” she added. 

“We do not have enough data to measure the effectiveness of these programs yet but we have already received positive feedback from new parents who have taken advantage of these new policies.” 

Twitter introduced more family benefits in January this year, including personalised and financial support to employees in navigating starting a family, said Ms Grewal. 

This includes financial support for egg freezing, fertility, surrogacy and adoption, as well as coaching during family planning, pregnancy and parenthood, she added. 

Employees at Dropbox who welcome a new child get 24 weeks of fully paid parental leave regardless of gender or whether they adopt, said its APAC head Pia Broadley. 

“We encourage returning parents to work with their managers and colleagues to develop a schedule that works best for them according to their current situation, with flexible options of remote and hybrid ways of working available when necessary,” she added. 

This content was originally published here.

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