By Arlene Wherrett, VP and Managing Director, Sage Asia.
Singapore has struggled to achieve equity for women in the workplace, with the country's performance in closing the gender gap steadily worsening.
Its ranking slipped 10 spots to 65th position out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report last year.
Aside from being the right thing to do ethically, addressing gender bias is also vital to attracting and keeping top talent.
Here are some practical steps companies in Singapore can take today.
Implement gender-neutral recruitment process
Carefully word job adverts. Research shows that adjectives such as "competitive" and "determined" put women off. Words such as "collaborative" and "cooperative" tend to attract more women than men.
Standardise interviews, anonymise curriculum vitae and use blind evaluation processes to help your company recruit from more diverse backgrounds and attract people based on skills, not gender.
Protect against unconscious bias, review salaries and standardise pay
Frequently review salaries with an eye to achieving parity between genders, races and other areas where diversity is a priority.
When recruiting, set the pay range offered on the size of the role and breadth of responsibility, rather than on how well candidates negotiated their last pay package.
Be sure to educate employees about their unconscious biases. Although this does not guarantee attitudes will change, it does help employees work towards eliminating them.
Have a clear policy on anti-discrimination
Create a clear, unbiased, non-retaliatory, anti-discrimination policy that ensures employees have a proper way to comment or report on inappropriate treatment.
Make sure everyone knows and understands it. Implement severe penalties for sexual discrimination and harassment.
A Unilever study found that women and men struggle to acknowledge gender discrimination and inappropriate behaviour (most likely sexual harassment) in the workplace.
In fact, 67 per cent of women said they feel pressured to overlook inappropriate acts. And 64 per cent of women and 55 per cent of men said men do not confront the perpetrator when/after witnessing bad behaviour.
Ensure managers are actively encouraging women to progress
Make sure that female employees are applying for promotions and asking for pay rises.
At KPMG, when a promotion is advertised, line managers are encouraged to check whether their high potential female colleagues have applied and if not, ask why.
According to an internal Hewlett-Packard review, if faced with a job description list of 10 criteria, women don't feel they are up to the task if they cannot tick off every item, whereas men are confident if they meet 60 per cent of the requirements.
Women must be encouraged to be bold, take risks and have faith in their capabilities and strengths.
It is also important to promote a culture where great ideas come from all levels, genders and races, and all voices are welcome and respected around the table.
The writer is vice-president and managing director at Sage Asia. This is an edited version of an article that appeared in The Business Times yesterday.
This article first appeared in The New Paper (Online) on 11 Oct 2018 – Take steps to eliminate gender bias.