Speech by President Halimah Yacob at Women's Forum Singapore

Ms Clara Gaymard, President of the Women’s Forum

for the Economy and Society

Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State,

Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth

Mr Marc Abensour, Ambassador of France to Singapore

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am happy to be here at the first ever Women’s Forum Singapore. To those who have travelled from afar to join us, welcome to Singapore. Highlighting the views and perspectives and promoting the leadership of women has never been more important, and I am pleased to see that you are united here not over obstacles and hurdles, but rather over the opportunities to shape a resilient and inclusive world.

We have, today, a world that is disrupted. Disruption has accelerated changes and challenges to the economy. According to a report by Microsoft and ICD Asia, 93 per cent of jobs in Singapore will be transformed in the next three years. We can expect this percentage to be even higher if we juxtapose this situation with the observation by the World Economic Forum, which noted that the automation of jobs is more likely to impact women negatively.

However, we can also look at the disruptive economy in a positive light by harnessing it for the greater good. Findings have shown that access to and, importantly, the ability to understand and use technologies, can have a positive impact on women’s education and employment opportunities. For example, we can facilitate jobs for women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to serve as catalysts in narrowing the gender gap.

We must continue to harness technology to improve the lives of women. If we can combine the best of the global technology industry with the ingenuity and resourcefulness of women to solve the challenges posed by the digital divide, we can unlock a collosal wave of human potential and freedom for future generations.

Society is starting to recognise the intrinsic and extrinsic contributions of women in our economy. The need for women in business and in start-ups as entrepreneurs is not only an ethical issue, but also an economic and social imperative. A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that Asia-Pacific economies could add $4.5 trillion to their collective Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by advancing gender equality. This is a 12 per cent increase in business-as-usual GDP. Singapore, in particular, could add some S$26 billion to our annual GDP.

By providing skills training and creating the right pipelines, businesses can allow women to be in leadership positions. The same study by McKinsey showed that when men and women are equally oriented towards business results, the bottom line for women often extends beyond financials, and towards making a positive impact on their employees, communities and societies. It was also found that women in leadership positions can increase longer-term value creation by 27 per cent for companies. Businesses and governments should constantly strive to create an equitable world where women can truly harness and apply their creative and diverse talents.

In this regard, the Singapore Government is committed to the advancement of all women and girls. In Singapore, every child, regardless of gender and background, has access to high quality education. Singapore aims to provide an enabling environment that supports our people in maximising their potential and their advancement into leadership roles. We are focused on providing equal opportunities and access to resources as well as eliminating barriers in the workplace, community and at home.

Women in Singapore are also increasingly taking on leadership positions. There has been improving board gender diversity in Singapore. For instance, the Diversity Action Committee (DAC) in Singapore which champions women leadership on boards recently shared that women’s participation on the boards of top-100 primary listed companies have increased by 20 per cent since June 2017. If this pace is sustained, the Top 100 companies will be the first group of companies to achieve DAC’s first-tier target of 20 per cent women on boards by 2020, leading the way for other companies to join in.

Building on this momentum, Singapore is proud to welcome the first ever Women’s Forum Singapore. Over the next two days, we will discuss important topics of innovation, resilience and empowerment. By harnessing the power of networks, data and infocomm technologies, we can improve lives, create economic opportunities and build a closer community. I am confident that our discussions will throw up useful ideas and suggestions to address our needs. More importantly, they will add to the call for women’s leadership to be tomorrow’s change-makers in shaping minds and lives.

I wish you a successful Forum.

Thank you.