WOMEN AT THE HELM
Unsurprisingly, there were hardly any women in leadership positions in the 1960s. The push for girls to be educated had only got under way in earnest in the past decade. In 1965, half of Singapore’s women were still illiterate. Women were only just beginning to leave the home and kitchen for low-level jobs in factories and offices. A few women were active in politics, but from 1970 to 1984 Singapore’s Parliament was all male. The first cracks in the glass ceiling appeared in the 1980s and – slowly – women began to move into senior positions and to head organisations in the private and public sectors.
1965There are three women in independent Singapore’s first Parliament – Chan Choy Siong and Mrs Devan Nair of the People’s Action Party (PAP) and Loh Miaw Gong of the Barisan Sosialis.
1968In independent Singapore’s first general election, only one woman – Chan Choy Siong – is elected to Parliament.
1981Fang Ai Lian becomes a partner in accounting firm Ernst & Young Singapore. She is made managing partner in 1996 – the first woman to head a global accounting firm in Singapore, and the first woman to run any Ernst & Young office worldwide.
1984The PAP fields three women candidates in the General Election. All three - Aline Wong, Dixie Tan and Yu-Foo Yee Shoon – get elected and the House is no longer all male.
1988Seet Ai Mee is fielded by the PAP in the General Election and is elected. Singapore now has four women in Parliament. Ai Mee is made an Acting Minister in July 1991, but in the elections two months later, she loses her seat and retires from politics.
1994Theresa Foo becomes the first Asian female chief executive at Standard Chartered Bank. Earlier, in 1977, she was the first woman in Bank of America’s Singapore operations to be made a vice president.
1995Claire Chiang is one of the first two women to be elected to the board of the 89-year old Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
1999Lim Soo Hoon is the first woman to be made a Permanent Secretary. Five years later, Cheong Koon Hean is the first woman to head the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and in 2010 she becomes head of the Housing and Development Board.
2009Lim Hwee Hua becomes the first woman Cabinet minister. But she loses her seat in the 2011 General Election and the Cabinet is once again all male.
2011The Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations launches BoardAgender (BA) to raise awareness of the economic benefits of having more diverse boards. A study by BA and the National University of Singapore (NUS) finds that only 6.9% of the directors of Singapore’s listed companies are women.
2012Grace Fu joins the Cabinet as Minister, Prime Minister’s Office. In 2015, she becomes Minister for Culture, Community and Youth. In 2017 Josephine Teo joins her in the Cabinet, followed in 2018 by Indranee Rajah.
2014The Ministry for Social and Family Development sets up the Diversity Action Committee (DAC). The aim is to get more women onto the boards of Singapore Exchange-listed companies.
2017Halimah Yacob is unchallenged in the Presidential Election and becomes Singapore’s first woman President.
2019Chua Sock Koong, Group CEO of Singtel, becomes the first woman member of the Council of Presidential Advisors.
Women make up about 30% of senior management positions in the corporate sector, a study by Grant Thornton finds, but only 9% of firms have a female CEO.
In the civil service, 25% of Permanent Secretaries are women, and 46% of Superscale officers are women.
The DAC is re-named Council of Board Diversity (CBD) and broadens its scope to include getting more women onto boards in the public and non-profit sectors.
The number of women on boards of the top 100 listed companies creeps up by 0.5 points to 15.7% in the first half of 2019. The CBD wants to see women making up 20% of listed company boards by 2025, and 30% by end 2030.
First Woman President of Singapore
Halimah Yacob is a trail blazer. In 2017 she became Singapore’s first woman President. This was four years after she became the first woman Speaker of the Singapore Parliament. Trained as a lawyer, she worked at the National Trades Union Congress where she rose to the post of deputy secretary-general. In 2001, she was the first Malay woman elected to Parliament. As a politician she championed the interests of women and workers, and was vocal on issues such as flexible work arrangements and training for older and less skilled workers.
Global champion of sustainable development and women’s rights
Noeleen Heyzer has dedicated her professional life to the opening of spaces for dialogue and change to advance equity, social justice, and sustainable development for people and the planet. From 2007 to 2014 she was an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and the highest ranking Singaporean in the world body. She was the first woman to head the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and before that the first person from the South to lead the United Nations Development Fund for Women.
Gan Siow Huang
First female Brigadier-General in the Singapore Armed Forces
In 2015 Gan Siow Huang became the first woman Brigadier-General in the Singapore Armed Forces. This followed a string of firsts in the SAF. In 1993, she was in the first batch of four women to receive the SAF Merit Scholarship to pursue a military career. In 2010, she was the first female military officer to be sent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she got an MBA. In 2016, she took command of Air Power Generation Command, the largest formation in the Republic of Singapore Air Force.