Empowering every woman in the digital-first world

Creating opportunities for women in technology is not just about developing a pipeline of jobs. Cecily Ng, senior vice-president and general manager for Singapore at Salesforce, breaks down the Singapore government’s recent white paper on women’s development.

It was extremely encouraging to read the Singapore government’s recent white paper on women’s development, and even more heartening to see it endorsed unanimously by parliament. Indeed, a whole-of-society effort is needed to truly uplift women and create equitable opportunities for them to succeed in all aspects of life.

Of the five key areas of the paper, the push for equal opportunities in the workplace particularly resonated with me. As a professional in the technology sector, I’ve seen first-hand the increasing efforts made around female representation. Today, women make up 41% of the technology workforce in Singapore, surpassing the global average of 28%.

Yet a lot more work needs to be done to empower women to not only hold down a job but thrive in their chosen careers. Every percentage point away from 50:50 gender parity is still a gap. With the world undergoing rapid transformation and businesses facing talent shortages, we simply cannot afford to take another 20 years to achieve gender equality. The digital economy has already arrived, and we need to include every woman along on this journey.

Inclusive skills training is a business imperative

Speak to any organization and chances are the talent shortage will come up as one of the biggest challenges they face today. According to the Economic Development Board, there will be at least 20,000 digital jobs created based on committed investments. We need to accelerate the development of this talent pool and support more women as they leverage these growing digital job opportunities.

Unfortunately, digital confidence among our workforce is low. Recent research from Salesforce has found that 72% of female respondents in Singapore feel unequipped with the workplace digital skills needed in the next five years. Yet these digital skills – from collaboration to cybersecurity technologies – are not taught in Singapore’s mainstream school curriculum.

This is why training is so important in enabling women to participate more fully in the workplace. It is heartening to see growing investments in training initiatives driven by both public and private sectors. As businesses continue to take the lead in this endeavor, they must also consider how their programs can be more gender-inclusive to increase female participation. The pandemic has presented an incredible opportunity for us to rethink digital education. Through online platforms such as Salesforce’s Trailhead, we can better support women who are working from home and want to learn digital skills anytime, anywhere.

Creating flexible work environments

Encouraging more women to join the digital workforce is important, but we also need to ensure that the environment they are entering allows them to thrive.

The work environment today, as a result of the pandemic, is particularly challenging for women. A survey by Singapore Business Federation last year found that 63% of women with informal caregiving responsibilities have considered leaving their jobs.

As we navigate a world beyond Covid we have the unprecedented opportunity to accelerate the advancement of women in the workplace. It was exciting to hear Singapore will be entrenching flexible work arrangements as a workplace norm by 2024 through the introduction of new Tripartite Guidelines. By sustaining the hybrid approach to work that has become commonplace during the pandemic, we can strike harder at the shackles of traditional gender norms and give more women the choice to participate in economic activity if they so choose. At the same time, a hybrid workforce also gives men the opportunity to play a bigger role at home in their families, leveling the playing field on both ends.

Of course, the responsibility to uplift women lies not just with the government, but with private enterprises as well. At Salesforce, we walk the talk by creating a flexible work environment that connects all team members – whether they’re in the office or at home – through a single platform powered by collaborative tools and technologies. We have also recently launched Flexible Team Agreements across the company, which gives teams and employees the autonomy to decide how and when they schedule workdays, hold meetings, interact, collaborate, document processes and more.

Equal benefits for equal work

Advancing female representation in the digital economy is a journey. Strengthening workplace fairness is one of the key actions outlined in the white paper, and it starts from how we attract and recruit talent to how we invest in talent development and even the benefits we provide.

This includes wellness and mental health benefits, domestic violence leaves, Covid-19 carer’s leave, flexible work options and extended paid parental leave support. Just as we champion more women in the workforce, we must do likewise for men supporting on the home front. This means encouraging men to take parental leave and have flexible working arrangements.

All benefits must ultimately be underpinned by a commitment to equal pay for equal work. Salesforce has spent more than $16.2m to adjust salaries for our employees globally to address statistical differences in pay, and we will continue to monitor to ensure equity in our business.

Leaving no woman behind

Creating opportunities for women in technology is not just about developing a pipeline of jobs. It is also about ensuring that every woman, regardless of her background, has equitable access to these opportunities.

Many of us may not realize this, but there are more than 25,000 women from low-income families in Singapore. This is why one of the non-profit organizations we support at Salesforce is Daughters of Tomorrow. It empowers women from the low-income community in Singapore by providing them with various types of training and then matching them with jobs.

I remember hearing the story of Kim Underhill, who is president and board member at Daughters of Tomorrow. As a single mother working hard to provide for her children, she was able to overcome her adversities thanks to her manager who supported and sponsored her studies. Today, Kim holds a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing, as well as a master’s in industrial and organizational psychology. Even more inspiring is that she is now paying it forward by giving other women the support they need.

We need more stories like that. Practical support such as skills grants, mentorship programs and childcare funding is necessary to empower more women – especially those in need – to find opportunities in the digital-first economy.

Achieving gender equality isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do. Resilient companies of the future are the ones that cultivate a diverse workforce reflective of the customers and communities they serve. We are encouraged by the full endorsement of female advancement from our government leaders, and business leaders need to join the whole-of-society efforts to put our dollars, time and action behind supporting women.

There are 20,000 digital jobs in Singapore that we will need to fill. Let’s ensure we don’t leave our women behind.

Cecily Ng is senior vice-president and general manager for Singapore at Salesforce.