Beyond Glass Ceilings: Strategies for Empowering Women Leaders in Singapore

As Singapore business continues to gain the spotlight on the worldstage, more opportunities for career development are making their way into the city-state. HR leaders are thinking about how to best support their employees while prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts within their organization. 

The People Collective (TPC)—a Slack community for HR professionals across Southeast Asia and beyond—recently hosted an in-person workshop in celebration of International Women’s Day for People leaders to discuss and learn strategies for empowering women to lead in Singapore (and across the region). Inspired by the insightful discussions and drawing on the experiences of our community, this blog explores the key strategies that can propel women leaders forward. 

As we heard from panelist Shree Chandramogan, APAC Publishing HRBP at Riot Games,

“It’s not just about gender, it could be about cultural differences, racial, any of these things. It always holds a narrative.”

By fostering an inclusive environment that celebrates diversity, we can unlock the full potential of Singapore’s workforce.

Building a Strong Foundation for Women Leaders

women leaders

The conversation highlighted several key themes and factors to include in HR’s diversity management strategy that can empower women leaders in Singapore:

Put People First

Our discussion emphasized a core value we all share at TPC: prioritizing people. The more a leadership and HR team is supportive of people’s whole life, versus just their work life, the more it will help retention, productivity and morale. This sentiment shows up in several ways, from empathetic leadership to embracing flexibility and equity. Listening to your employees and advocating for their needs is paramount. This means designing working arrangements that consider varied preferences for remote, hybrid, or in-office work, prioritizing fringe benefits that support a balanced workforce such as flexible hours, mental health resources, or wellness stipends, and building a culture of open and continuous feedback.

Championing Sponsorship

Mentorship is valuable, but sponsorship takes championing women leaders a step further. Mentorship focuses on guidance and advice, whereas sponsorship is about advocacy and opportunity. A sponsor is someone who can use their influence to promote you and your work to others. They can recommend you for opportunities, introduce you to important people, and speak on your behalf.

As panelist VJ Posadas, Director of Corporate Partnerships Executive Education at INSEAD stressed,

“Women are over-mentored but under-sponsored. One way we can use our male privilege for allyship to make women’s work more visible is by getting men involved in being their sponsors.”

Of course, women leaders can and should continue to be coached and mentored by fellow women as their experiences are often relatable. Encouraging sponsorship programs can connect women leaders with influential advocates who can champion their advancement.

Tailor Skills Development Initiatives

Learning and development is a major factor in career growth and performance coaching, but not all skills development programs are created equal. When considering strategies to specifically champion women leaders, consider skills areas that have historically been pain points. For example, effective communication is essential for leadership success, and is often regarded with double standards for women and men. 

“Women leaders often downplay their accomplishments or hesitate to speak up in meetings. Developing strong communication skills is essential to project confidence and inspire your team.”

Kathy Teoh, Global Strategic DEI & Belonging Director at Arcadis

From strengthening communication and advocacy skills to addressing skill gaps in historically male-dominated industries such as programming and engineering, our panel discussions highlighted the importance of tailored skills development programs that equip women leaders with the confidence and skills to navigate challenging situations and inspire their teams. 

Supporting Individual Contributors

Leadership isn’t the only path to success, as panelist Wei Ching Ong, Founder of SELF, pointed out,

“Internally how are we promoting women? I’ve started to look at this collectively with other HR professionals, is the manager track really what women leaders want? Some women actually prefer the individual contributor track and that’s also worth nurturing. But has the organization designed programs that support growth as an individual contributor? You often hear the narrative that you have to be a manager to show that you are making progress, but that doesn’t have to be true.” 

Success looks different to everyone, and honoring your employee’s career aspirations is an excellent way to not only nurture them, but retain their talent. Organizations must value and design career paths for individual contributors, providing opportunities for growth and recognition outside of management roles.

Embracing Data-Driven Decisions

Quantitative metrics are important, but they don’t provide the whole picture. The panel emphasized the need for qualitative data, such as employee surveys and focus groups, to understand the lived experiences of women in the workplace.

Wei Ching wisely pointed out the need to, “dig deep into the metrics and get insights from your female workforce as well.” This includes questioning assumptions and having open conversations to understand the lived experiences of your employees.

One of the many examples covered was the assumption that women prefer a remote or hybrid set-up, as it may support them in obtaining a stronger work-life balance. Yet many women desire the opportunity to work in-office, presenting a much-needed separation from domestic work. 

Whereas other women may need additional support in addressing the challenges of balancing work and life, as Kathy Teoh suggests,

 “Many women leaders struggle to find a work-life balance. Organizations need to provide support systems, like flexible work arrangements and childcare options, to help women thrive in their careers.”

Gathering real-time data from your employees allows you to develop policies that will actually positively impact their working experience, whatever it may be.

Continuous Dialogue and Collective Action with TPC

women leaders

HR professionals are setting the standard for championing women, and doing the hard work of navigating the way to successful advancement. Those are just some of the insights shared during a recent People Collective event.

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