MARCH 21 — I am a woman. Stating the obvious but this is important because to this day, this biological fact determines a great deal of what is expected of me.
How I am expected to behave, to dress, even how I am supposed to speak.
It also influences my career prospects, my chances of financial success and independence to an inordinate degree.
Of course, there are times when sex is extremely relevant — childbirth, menstruation — and provisions and policy need to cater to this.
But in many other areas, my sex isn’t relevant but it still remains a factor.
Women still earn less while doing the same jobs, yet they are still expected to do more at home — in terms of domestic work cleaning, ironing etc. and with all this, we are still held to much higher standards of beauty. We are expected to wear makeup, for example.
It is fundamentally unfair.
Every year, Forbes magazine publishes a list of the 50 richest people in Singapore and year after year, there are hardly any women on the list.
The last iteration featured just a single woman — and she too, while impressive, is the granddaughter of the founder of OCBC bank.
A second statistic that to me makes it abundantly clear that equality in any meaningful sense remains a distant dream is the fact that in Singapore female-founded businesses and start-ups received just 2 per cent of the total funding dispersed by Venture Capital funds last year.
Businesses need capital to scale and grow. None of the world’s major start-ups from Grab to Facebook would have been possible without fund-driven early-stage investment. Singapore has a multi-billion-dollar Venture Capital ecosystem, but this money just isn’t going to women.
And to me this cut to the heart of the issue. Women have fought for years for equal legal rights — and today in Singapore at least, we have largely achieved this.
But a huge disparity in terms of money and power remains between the two sexes. We are systematically prevented from closing this gap.
Women have proved at every level of academic and professional achievement that we can perform as well as men. Even though we have only been allowed to attend universities and join professions for a fraction of the time men have, we are already performing at the highest levels.
But in the board rooms, in the C suites and at the helms of tech businesses and start-ups that increasingly dominate our world, women are chronically under-represented.
Again, it is not for lack of ability. All research indicates that female-led start-ups that do receive funding perform as well as, if not better, than male-led companies with a large proportion going on to record steady growth and successful exits.
This resonates with me personally because I led and grew a start-up, across South-east Asia for over seven years and exited the business successfully last year.
I was lucky but I also know that I faced challenges simply because I was a female. It is an absurd situation that women who already begin at a disadvantage in terms of wealth and power are excluded from gaining it in the one field where disruption and change should be encouraged.
It will take decades for us to achieve parity in corporate board rooms or big businesses.
Start-ups really are the best avenue for women’s financial success but we are not given the support we need to succeed. At every level, girls and women are not encouraged to start businesses and when we do, we are simply not given the financing and support we need to scale and exit.
In fact, given the disadvantage women are placed at structurally and historically we should receive more funding than men and not a tiny fraction of what they receive.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.