SINGAPORE, Narrowing the gender gap could help to grow Singapore's gross domestic product (GDP) by an additional US$20 billion (about S$26 billion) or 5 per cent by 2025, said a new report released on Tuesday.

This growth potential can be achieved mainly by increasing the number of hours worked by women and having a higher share of females in higher-productivity, higher-paying sectors, like technology, according to new data from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), the business and economics research arm of consulting group McKinsey.

Boosting the female participation in the labour force will also help to increase growth though the report noted that Singapore has already made "major progress on this front".

From 28 per cent in 1970, women's labour-force participation in Singapore has doubled to 58 per cent in 2016. MGI's Gender Parity Score (GPS) also puts Singapore at 0.68, above the Asia Pacific average score of 0.44.


But despite these progress, barriers remain when it comes to women joining the workforce, working full-time and in sectors where they can earn higher pay and improve their economic prospects, noted Oliver Tonby, McKinsey's managing partner for Southeast Asia.

The report noted an unusual pattern of participation in Singapore. The gap between women and men on labour-force participation shrinks from the ages of 25 to 29 to reach parity, but widens again when women are in their 30s and beyond. The rate of decline in Singapore's female-to-male ratio of labour-force participation is also steeper than in other advanced economies.

In contrast, the ratio among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries takes a small dip when women are in their 30s but rises again when women enter their 40s and return to the workforce likely after starting families.

Women in Singapore are also more likely to participate in part-time work and not necessarily by choice, the report noted.

In 2016, women accounted for 64.3 per cent of part-time workers, reflecting the challenge of balancing family life with employment.

Married women, especially those with children, are less likely to participate in the labour force. In 2016, the participation rate for married women was 63.6 per cent, compared with men's 83.8 per cent. Over the past five years, the participation of married women has increased by 2.3 percentage points, but the participation of married men is still 20.1 points higher, said the report.

Women's role in childcare is a major factor in these trends, the report noted. 41.7 per cent of women outside the workforce cited family responsibilities as the main reason. Meanwhile, only 47 per cent of firms in Singapore offer full-time flexible work arrangements.

Females in Singapore are also more likely to be in low-paying, low-productivity jobs that are most prone to being displaced by automation. For instance, the ratio of female-to-male low-paid occupations such as clerical support is 3.18, while cleaning and labouring sectors see a sector of 1.45.

Women are also least represented in high-growth sectors, such as information and communications where the female-to-male ratio is 0.63. The exception is finance and insurance, where the female-to-male ratio of 1.10 is near parity.

MGI research estimates that 800,000 full-time equivalent jobs could potentially be displaced in Singapore by 2030 due to automation. Automation is likely to have a less marked impact on jobs that involve managing people, applying expertise, and social interactions�professional roles that machines cannot so easily replicate�but Singaporean women are relatively underrepresented in these jobs, the report said.


As such, the report recommends measures to help women balance their family responsibilities with work more effectively.

These include having more flexible work options, programmes to ease the transition for mothers to return to work and expanded leave options that include more gender-balanced parental leave policies.

There is also the need to improve efforts to equip women with essential skills that would increase their representation in high-paying jobs and high-growth sectors, such as technology, said Lin Diaan-Yi, McKinsey's managing partner for Singapore.

Upgrading skills is one way to protect women's employment and income prospects, she said, though many females are reluctant to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

The report noted that while undergraduate women recognise the value of digital and technology skills, they often lag behind men in increasing their digital fluency.

Only 68 per cent have taken a coding or computing course, compared with 83 per cent of men. When it comes to adoption of new technology quickly, only 46 per cent of female undergraduates gave a positive answer, compared with 63 per cent of men.

Meanwhile, only 44 per cent of undergraduate women said they continue to learn digital skills.

As demographic change threatens to put more pressure on women's family responsibilities and as automation displaces low-skilled jobs, the government and companies can pursue a rich agenda of action to make further progress towards gender parity in Singapore, Lin added, while noting that the government and employers can do more to help women workers to make use of SkillsFuture to take up STEM-related training.


Apart from these two recommendations, the report noted that more efforts will also be needed to shift attitudes towards women's roles in society and in the workplace. Without effort on this front, further advances will be hard to achieve, the report said.

Companies and the government can work together to shift attitudes towards gender roles to give women equality of opportunity and the freedom to choose how they live and work.

Evidence from around the world suggests that a combination of information sharing and public-awareness campaigns can be effective, the report said.

Across Asia Pacific, advancing women's equality could add US$4.5 trillion to the region's collective GDP by 2025 - a 12 per cent increase.

Already a powerful engine of global growth, pursuing the goal of gender parity can lift many more women out of poverty, unleash the economic potential of many others, and reinforce the region's dynamic growth story, the report said.

Source: NAM News Network