The reason why discussions about gender equality can get ugly is because we imagine a situation whereby we are forced to look into the mirror and begin an existential crisis.
For most people, this is not the case. Assuming the person is not an outright misogynist, it is more typical that someone finds gaps in their own approach to sexism. This does not make him or her a bad person, but simply human.
I bring this up because in the past month, I have discovered a blind spot in my typically pro-feminism views on life. Plus, my gap is an example of why it is important to have equal representation in the work place.
Basically, I sometimes miss things.
About a month ago, I was at a pitching competition and the experience was overall pretty positive. On the way home, my female colleague mentioned that all of the judges were men. I was shocked! Not that they were all men, that happens all the time, but that it had not even registered in my head.
I was on her side, I agreed with her sentiments, but she had to bring it up.
The second case happened this morning.
e27 covered the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award with a fairly straight forward article. Provide some background, list the winners, and wrap it up. The article is fine, just straight forward hard news.
Then, I got a friendly message. Someone had noticed something that had completely flown over my head. All of the winners are men!
What’s worse, they will represent Singapore at the global World-Entrepreneur of The Year awards in Monte Carlo next year. Singapore is a city whose top cop is a woman, whose biggest startup is Co-founded by a woman and whose largest telco is run by a woman. And yet, the “representatives” for this place will all be men.
Furthermore, the last (and only) woman to win the global award was a Singaporean. Her name is Olivia Lum and she is the Group President of Hyflux Limited, an environmental company.
That being said, this fits a trend from EY, who have awarded one female the Singapore award in its 13-year history. To drive the point home, the only woman who won the Singapore award WENT ON TO WIN THE WHOLE DAMN THING!
But back to the thesis. I had no idea how male-dominated this award was until someone pushed me to look.
I think a lot of men are like me. We may not be inherently sexist, and theoretically we want equal representation for women in the workplace, but most of the time we don’t register moments of injustice.
The reason is because it is easy for men to get complacent because it doesn’t really affect us.
For example, about six weeks ago, Singapore-based entrepreneur Jacqui Hocking created a kerfuffle after she posted on Medium about the Singapore Business Review (SBR) “Hottest Startups” award that was dominated by men.
That should have resulted in this issue being on the top of my mind. It was for a few days, but 6 weeks later I was already missing things again.
Hell, I even received (justified) texts after publishing a ‘50 fintech influencers‘ article that was dominated by men. And yet, I was still blind to the EY awards gender issue.
The next opinion might get me in trouble, but so be it
I think it is important to push people like myself, EY and SBR to actively think about female representation in the workplace. But I think it is less about adults and more about little girls.
I tend to believe most adults can fight for what they want, but that, for children, role models prove that their dreams are accessible. That way, they don’t quit engineering when they are 13 because the only people winning awards are men.
It makes a gigantic difference when a young girl can look in the newspapers and see people like her achieving greatness. It’s why kids books should have female doctors, women politicians and successful businesswomen.
Lost in the ugliness surrounding the Serena Williams/Naomi Osaka US Open Championship was an inspirational storyline. Osaka idolised Williams. Williams was the reason Osaka found tennis. Williams proved that a woman of colour could become the greatest tennis player of all time, which inspired Osaka to follow the same dream.
When Channel News Asia published the feature on CID Police Chief Florence Chua, I hope a young girl in Singapore read the article and decided to become a police officer. I hope she eventually replaces Chua, and when she does, points to Chua as the reason why she joined the force.
Greatness shows us what is possible, so it is especially important to show children that people like them can reach the mountain top.
Sure, it might be tougher for women, who clearly face higher barriers than men to reaching the upper echelons of the business world, but it is not impossible. Mrs. Chua Sock Koong is the Group CEO of Singtel, which is about as big as it gets in Singapore.
What we need to do better is celebrating these successes so the next generation is inspired to join our ranks, instead of being turned-off because “it is a man’s job”.
The first step is for men like me to admit that patriarchy is so ingrained in our subconsciousness, that despite of our understanding on the importance of equality, we tumble back into our old ways. Justice is a continuous learning process and what happened today is another lesson on how we can do it better.
For myself, the next time I see an all-male awards show, hopefully I won’t need a friend to point it out.
Let’s hope that the EY Global Entrepreneur of the Year award goes to a women, which, if it does, means Singapore has no shot of being crowned champion.