1. Good morning everyone, friends and colleagues. I want to thank SG Women in Tech, as well as SG Innovate for having this corporate pledge sharing session organised, and for inviting all of us. We're delighted to be here.

2. I want to acknowledge the presence of my parliamentary colleagues  among us. Jessica Tan is not a stranger to you, particularly because she's had such a distinguished career in tech. Tin Pei Ling is chairperson of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Communications and Information, also had part of her professional life in tech. Then there's the rest of us – Hany Soh, Rahayu Mahzam, Sun Xueling and Low Yen Ling and myself, not quite in tech, but appreciating its importance and its value. We all wanted to do our part to support this very important initiative. So, let me start by asking questions: this initiative - the SG Tech initiative - why does it matter? And why do we bother?

3. You can think of it at three levels. At the national level, Singapore has long believed in providing the best possible opportunities for women so that they can, in turn, help our nation to achieve the best possible progress. This was our conviction at the founding of the nation. It remains so today. 

4. At the level of enterprises, it's also very clear to all of us that businesses are hungry for talent, and in particular, tech talent. Specific to the digital domain, demand for talent far outstrips supply. Every corner you turn, every company you speak to in tech and non tech divisions, will tell you the same thing.

5. And so, even as we battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the Infocomm Tech (ICT) sector itself continues to expand local employment, which makes it one of the few sectors in Singapore to do so last year, and we see the momentum continuing this year. In fact, the needs are expanding well beyond the ICT sector, whether it is in healthcare, financial services  or manufacturing, the kinds of roles that are being created are very much digitally focused. For example, in the last two years, EDB’s pipeline of investments, which cuts across manufacturing, professional services, biomedical and other sectors, will create about 20,000 digital roles, and that constitutes about 40% of all the new jobs created through these pipelines, so it's very significant. So, it goes without saying that from the business standpoint, it makes very good sense to avail yourself to the widest talent pool, which must, of course, include women. 

6. So we've dealt with it at the national level and enterprise and business level. How about at the individual level? One of the hallmarks of a progressive society is to make choices available to women, so that they can go as far as they are capable of, and we want our women to participate in high growth sectors, of which tech is one. There are other high growth sectors like the green economy, but certainly the digital economy is at the forefront and we want to see women participate fully in the digital economy. 

7. Now, in general, when we look at women in Singapore, their participation in the workforce has been really a bright spark. If you look at our employment rate for women, it has risen steadily. And one of the things that we also observe outside of Singapore, is that COVID-19 disrupts not just jobs, many women were displaced as a result of these job losses. They tended to be more present in sectors that were more hard hit – hospitality, travel, and all the related services industries – women are highly represented in these sectors, and so, when we were hit by the pandemic, they were also hit. But this was not the case in Singapore.

8. In fact, our employment rate was able to hold steady against this very severe economic downturn. In the Global Innovation Index 2020, Singapore ranked first for the proportion of women employed with advanced degrees. That reflects women in Singapore's progression through the education system and the very high degree of attainment. And according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group, women now make up 41% of the tech workforce in Singapore. This proportion is one of the highest in the region, well above the global average of 28%.1  

9. So we are starting on a reasonably good foundation. But for women to make even more headway in tech-related jobs, we must first understand what still stands in the way. And I think when we discuss with people, there are still gaps. For example, women may be able to enter into tech related roles, but their progression, when you look at the top tier and C-suite, you don't see the same level of representation. I think these are indications that there are gaps that we can fill. 

10. Just this morning, our colleague Member of Parliament Yeo Wan Ling, who is also in the Labour Movement, shared with us a set of findings through a Facebook post that came about from a straw poll conducted by the PAP Women’s Wing and NTUC Women and Family unit. It was a quick straw poll, and over the course of a week, they got around 2400 responses. It shows how much energy there is around this topic and people wanting to let us know what they’re thinking. 

11. We asked these individuals what they thought were the barriers and motivations for women to work in tech. I very much encourage you to check out Wan Ling’s post for the specific details, but looking at what she posted, one of the findings that she reported really stood out for me. Amongst all the female respondents, about 70% felt that companies can do a better job of attracting and retaining women talent in the tech related jobs - if they provide equal opportunities for both sexes in career advancement and development. 

12. We were also very curious about what the male respondents thought, and if there was a difference in how men perceive this issue. And as it turns out, the majority of the male respondents agreed, a slightly smaller number at 57%, but still a majority of men perceived that the opportunities for advancement are not quite the same. So that begs the question - are opportunities unequal for men and women in tech? 

13. Whether this is perception or reality, we ought to pay attention. We have to ask this question of whether these barriers could prevent women who are keen to join the industry from coming. Is this barrier also preventing companies from widening their talent pool? And is it standing in the way for society to uphold cherished values of fairness and progressivity? So those are the questions that we don’t have the immediate answers to, but they are on our minds. Breaking down these barriers will benefit women and businesses alike. 

14. This is why we are here today: to reach out once again to women and say “you are welcome in tech, and here, you too can find your place in the sun.” We have here today quite a few women who have made headway into the tech sector and are inspiring role models. We have our corporate pledge partners, who have given their commitment to help their women employers grow and glow. We have people who have been observing the tech sector for a long time, and are helping the general public to understand it better, and of course, my fellow Members of Parliament. 

15. We will each pledge concrete actions to advance women's opportunities in the tech sector. Some of us will pledge to spark more interest in tech among girls and women, so that they can consider careers in tech, so that it is not alien to them, so that it is not something that they have to think twice about, or feel that they have to explain to their friends and family why they're making this move. Others will pledge to provide more support for working mums, and back to work mums, with better corporate initiatives. And of course, we must also remember the men among us. Without their partnership, without their support, and without them being our allies, it is that much harder for women to grow in their professions, and in their organisations.

16. So we stand before each other, to demonstrate not just with words, but with deeds, how to help more women grow and glow in tech. Let us empower each other through choice, so that women may thrive in every way imaginable. Let us join hands today and everyday to take action for women. 

17. Thank you very much.
 
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1  BCG Report, 2020, ‘Boosting Women in Technology in Southeast Asia’
https://www.bcg.com/publications/2020/boosting-women-in-southeast-asia-tech-sector
 

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