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Work & Wellbeing Mental Health The Future of Work

Ikea, Johnson & Johnson and Indeed on creating inclusive policies for dads in Singapore


By Shawn Lim | Reporter, Asia Pacific

January 25, 2022 | 8 min read

The issue of women bearing a greater burden of responsibility for childcare, home-schooling and community caregiving has been sharply highlighted during the pandemic. The Drum looks at how businesses are creating policies to accommodate the demands of family, and apply them equally to men and women.


Companies such as Ikea that introduce gender parity are good for business and society

While Singapore has been steadfast in mandating maternity and paternity allowances, some businesses believe more can be done in terms of enabling fathers to actively participate through paid paternity leave.

At present, fathers are entitled to two weeks of paid paternity leave in Singapore, whereas mothers enjoy four months of maternity leave.

“Paid paternity leave offers various benefits such as bonding with a child, family wellbeing and more home-life equity by supporting working mothers,” says Kate Furey, director of corporate communications for Asia Pacific at Indeed.

“These can be increased manifold through double paid paternity leave for employees in Singapore.”

In a pledge led by the Swedish Chamber of Commerce (SwedCham) Singapore in December 2021, nine multinational businesses with Swedish roots committed to allowing fathers who work in these companies to spend twice as much time with their newborns and partners as they will have four weeks of paid paternity leave in 2022.

The pledge, called #DoubleUp, was started because of a SwedCham study called ‘#candid: 100 Perspectives on Gender Equality.’ The project captured a snapshot of how mainly men from all walks of life saw this issue in Singapore.

The stories SwedCham heard in the study made it clear that gender roles are changing not only at work but also at home, and that having more engaged fathers is part of how society is evolving.

SwedCham partners saw an opportunity to respond to this insight by creating work environments that cater to the needs and expectations of young families.

Carolina Rodriguez, chair of the sustainability committee at SwedCham and the founder and director of Dilucidar, explains the pledge aims to address the need to take concrete steps toward greater gender equality.

She notes as this is a global challenge for all countries and all sectors, it is not a Singapore-specific issue.

“At SwedCham we align our sustainability initiatives with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and we develop innovative partnerships within the business community to help promote these goals. In this case, it’s Goal 5 that focuses on gender equality,” she explains.

“As an initiative coming from the Swedish business community in Singapore, our partners recognize the overall need to create more equal workplaces for both men and women. And this means taking action on several different fronts, whether it is making sure women have equal opportunity for professional development, addressing the gender pay gap, flexible working arrangements for working parents and, of course, parental leave.”

A business taking part in the #DoubleUp pledge is Ikano Retail, an Ikea franchisee, whose human resource director Grace Ngooi says gender equality is part of Ikea’s larger, continuing and evolving commitment to inclusivity, because one cannot happen without the other when building an inclusive workplace.

This is why in 2017, when the Singapore government mandated two-week paternal leave for public and private sector employees, Ikea upped the ante and added two weeks for its employees around the region – offering a total of four weeks of paid paternity leave.

“We recognized that we needed to offer all fathers ample time and opportunity to contribute to the family-building process. The modern family nucleus requires fathers to contribute their fair share to their growing family, and there’s no denying that they have an important role to play as well. Since doing so on our part, the move has benefited fathers in our business in Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia where there is no compulsory paternity leave for private-sector employees yet,” explains Ngooi.

“This small step continues to make a big difference for dads in our business, and with their partners too. The benefit is available to any dad, regardless of marital status or residency status, and the time may be taken as one full month or flexibly over the first six months.”

April Swando Hu, co-founder, Nineby9, a non-profit organization seeking to accelerate gender equality and sustainable change in the workplace, says companies such as Ikea that introduce gender parity are good for business and society.

She notes that currently in Singapore women make up only 25% of leadership, yet the research by Nineby9 showed that they aspire for growth and advancement. This has seen women drop out of the workforce and not make it through to senior roles.

“Our research in Singapore identified that the three important factors to drive gender parity were the visible proof that women were treated equally to their male counterparts, women feeling supported at work by male allies, and companies providing work-life balance so that women could fulfill their family roles and obligations while building a successful and rewarding career,” she explains.

“Companies recognize that change will be most effectively influenced by managers and individual leaders, but the organization overall needs to play a role in creating policy and driving a culture of equality.”

What are other businesses doing?

Applauding the companies in Singapore that have increased the paid paternity leave for employees in Singapore, Ng Sing Hwee, head of HR for Singapore at Johnson & Johnson, says this is a sign of progress in Singapore and signifies a major step toward building a culture of gender equality in the workplace and at home.

In addition to gender equality, Johnson & Johnson also believes that family comes first, and it is committed to helping its employees balance their personal and professional responsibilities.

As part of its commitment, Johnson & Johnson currently offers eight weeks of paternity leave, and the pharmaceutical giant is looking to roll out 12 weeks of paternity leave in 2022.

“We are proud to offer a comprehensive and competitive parental leave program that is among the best in the industry. We believe these initiatives allow employees to bring their whole self to work and perform their best, be it at the workplace or home,” says Ng.

“As increased paid paternity leave becomes a growing norm in Singapore, we look forward to a more equitable distribution of parental responsibilities that will benefit families, the workplace and society.”

She continues: “Male employees who are fathers should feel empowered to use the full scope of their leave allocated to them to bond and care for their children. Similarly, companies need to recognize and enact parental policies that are gender-neutral and accept equitable responsibility between the two parents.”

What will the future see?

With the rise of hybrid work arrangements because of the pandemic, Ng points out employees expect a work culture that both accepts and encourages flexibility to perform both work-related and familial duties.

In Singapore and many other Asian cultures, females bear the brunt of caregiving, both for their children as well as the elderly in the home. Ng says this should not be the case as caregiving should be an equal responsibility shared between parents.

“Furthermore, with rising expectations of employers to care about their wellbeing among the younger generation of workers, as well as government efforts to create a more pro-family environment, companies who adopt a more family-friendly workplace policy will elevate their employer value proposition that will both retain current employees and attract talents to their companies,” she adds.

In addition, the world is amid the ‘Great Resignation,’ where employees seek to pursue deeper meaning and satisfaction with their life. Inadequate childcare support has also been cited as one of the several reasons for leaving the workforce.

“Therefore, it is ever more important for employers to make big strides toward improving employee welfare, health and wellbeing. The talent pool will naturally gravitate toward companies that can provide better flexibility for parents, among other benefits,” says Ng.

“We understand the need for adequate childcare support for both parents. Offering additional time off and other related childcare benefits to both parents is crucial to improving the wellbeing of both children and their parents – our employees. To create a healthier world, we need families to be healthy and that means spending quality time together and providing employees the resources and infrastructure needed to make that a reality.”

Work & Wellbeing Mental Health The Future of Work

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