Towards Gender Neutral Professions

Published on 28 June 2017


Here is a riddle for you. A father and son are involved in a car accident. The father dies instantly, while the son is critically injured. The boy is rushed to the emergency room where he is to undergo an operation. The boy is on the operating table and suddenly, the surgeon yells out: “I can’t operate on him! He’s my son!”

How is this possible?


So, what is your answer? Different people will give different answers. The answer – the surgeon is the boy’s mother.

The riddle exercise shows that some people still subconsciously attach gender to occupations and deem them either masculine or feminine.

NTUC Women’s Committee Chairperson K Thanaletchimi said this mindset is still prevalent in Singapore and must be addressed to improve the participation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industries.

“There is still this gender [disparity]. For many of us, there is a profession for males, there is a profession for females. This is also the same for games and sports. There must not be a gender differentiation when it comes to jobs and acquiring of knowledge and skills. In Asian countries such as Singapore, there is a notion that STEM jobs are more suitable for men. We need to change this,” she said.

She confessed that this will take a while if left to itself but for a start, schools can play a role in shaping the minds of young people to see that these jobs are gender neutral.

There are in fact already a few first movers to advocate for this change. Back in 2014, the Singapore Committee for UN Women collaborated with MasterCard and Standard Chartered to launch the Girls2Pioneers campaign to inspire and encourage youth in Singapore, particularly young girls and women, to explore and consider careers within STEM fields.

The annual programmes for girls aged 10 to 15 are held at schools and include day camps involving challenges that develop creativity, critical thinking and collaboration skills. There are also field trips to meet up with women who have carved successful careers in STEM, including sessions where participants get to interact with mentors and discover the benefits and challenges of entering the STEM world.


According to a survey by Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Singapore has seen the number of women university graduates in science and engineering double from 4,438 in 2004 to 9,516 in 2014.

A huge improvement, according to Ms Thanaletchimi, but more must be done to keep women in these industries. According to the Ministry of Social and Family Development, women make up about 57 per cent of university students in the science fields, 30 per cent in engineering and 35 per cent in information technology and computing fields. However, the numbers dip to a mere 27 per cent when it comes to pursuing a career in STEM.

“Based on many cases I’ve personally seen, many women leave the STEM industries or they choose not to enter as they say they do not have enough support from employers. Employers must also be first movers in changing the environment to be more conducive for women.

We mustn’t forget that STEM industries are in need of workers, and we need to tap on women as a resource to fill these gaps as well,” said Ms Thanaletchimi.


NTUC This Week 25 June 2017. Article by Fawwaz Baktee


Tags: U Women's Network,  NTUC,  Gender Equality,  STEM,  Women in Tech

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