Singapore

Population: 
5,469,700
Number of Business Networks: 24
Number of Private Sector Initiatives: 8
Number of Government Services: 20
Labor Force Participation Rate: 
65

Introduction

Since its independence in 1965, Singapore has experienced rapid economic growth, largely through constantly adapting its economic strategies and policies to evolving challenges and priorities. More...

Since its independence in 1965, Singapore has experienced rapid economic growth, largely through constantly adapting its economic strategies and policies to evolving challenges and priorities. Today, Singapore is one of the most developed economies in the region, a testament to the city state’s strong economic growth rate and highly free economy. Singapore’s GDP per capita at purchasing power parity (PPP) is among the world’s highest at US$78,763 in 2013, according to World Bank figures. Seventy-six percent of women ages 25–54 are in the workforce. While there continues to be high female representation in low-level jobs, women’s employment opportunities are increasing, evidenced by improvements in the female share of managers and administrators over the last decade (30 percent in 2003 to 35 percent in 2014).

Singapore’s economy depends largely on trade, particularly in electronics, information technology, petrochemicals, and financial services. It has one of the busiest ports in the world and most vibrant financial centers. Fittingly, Singaporean new businesses have one of the highest percentages of international clients with 14.5 percent of businesses reporting more than 75 percent of their customers to be based overseas. Technology use is also high among new businesses. According to the 2013 Annual Survey of Infocomm Usage by Enterprises, the proportion of enterprises in Singapore that used the Internet increased from 81 percent in 2011 to 86 percent in 2013.

Singapore’s business efforts are aided by its educated and driven workforce. The state of entrepreneurship in Singapore is strong. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2015 report found Singapore to be the top-ranked economy in “ease of doing business.”  Singapore’s total early stage entrepeneurship (TEA) rate – the rate at which the working age population starts a business or runs a business that is less than 3.5 years old - was 10.7 percent in 2013 which represents the 3rd highest rate in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s scan of 25 economies. Still, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2013 Singapore Report found areas where further support is needed. In a survey of 2,000 citizens between the ages of 18 and 64, 19.6 percent reported that they had received some form of entrepreneurship training, a lower share than the average of 23.1 percent across innovation-driven economies surveyed in 2008. Of those responding, 39.8 percent reported that a fear of failure would prevent them from embarking on new start-ups and 24.8 percent thought they possessed the skills, knowledge, and experience required to start a business.

Despite the many highlights of Singapore’s economy, women’s ability to contribute their full potential has historically been limited. The 1999 book, The Three Paradoxes: Working Women in Singapore, by Jean Lee S.K., Kathleen Campbell, and Audrey Chia, highlights three challenges facing working women in Singapore. The first paradox, and a familiar one globally, is that women in Singapore are expected to be active contributors both in the workplace while still fulfilling traditional family roles. This paradox reflects the reality of women’s changing role in society with women receiving higher levels of education and having increased opportunities to enter the workforce while still experiencing expectations of women’s traditional roles as mothers and wives at home. In fact, women now constitute over half of the student population at local universities. This dilemma is exacerbated by government policies, which both support women in the workplace and encourage them to have more children (due to Singapore’s declining birth rate). The second paradox furthers this point, highlighting the conflict women face between work and family. With the higher cost of living in Singapore, both women and men often need to work, increasing pressures on families, and especially women, to maintain a work-life balance.

The third paradox highlights barriers faced by women as they strive to advance in their careers. While women are encouraged through government policies and society to progress in their careers, they face barriers to their success, including gender stereotypes limiting women’s advancement into managerial and other leadership positions. Slowly, numbers of women in these leadership positions is increasing. In 2012, women accounted for 27.3 percent of employers in Singapore, up from 19.4 percent in 2002.

Another key challenge is improving women’s representation on corporate boards. A report published by the Diversity Task Force, a government body established to examine gender diversity on boards and senior management, regarding women on boards, Gender Diversity on Boards: A Business Imperative, reveals that as at April 2013, only 8.3 percent of director positions in Singapore were held by women. The proportion of all-male boards among Singapore Exchange-listed companies was 57 percent.

Despite challenges, promising trends highlight an increasingly supportive environment for women in the workforce. Many business networks in Singapore specifically target women and provide support, advice, and business development opportunities. Further, the appeal of entrepreneurship for women is evidenced by the fact that more women than men start businesses in Singapore. Further, the number of women in leadership positions is increasing. Women’s representation in the Singapore Parliament has risen. In 2013, women held 25 percent of Parliamentary seats,which exceeded the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s world average of 21 percent. Singapore’s first woman Speaker of Parliament was appointed in January 2013. Women made up 11 percent of judges in the Supreme Court, 52 percent of Judicial Officers in the State Courts and 50 percent of Judicial Officers in the Supreme Court.

The government is committed to advancing the status of women in Singapore. The government’s Employment Act, originally enacted in 1968, sets basic employment standards of employees, regardless of gender, and, in 2002, Singapore ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention Number 100 regarding Equal Renumeration, which further mandates supportive workplaces for women. This has narrowed the gender wage gap. Women now making 88 percent of what men make. The Office for Women’s Development (OWD) was set up as the national focal point on gender policy matters and regional and international cooperation on women. The OWD identifies issues, challenges, and trends affecting women’s development in Singapore and provides advice from the gender perspective to public agencies. 

Business networks in Singapore very effectively target women in various stages of business development and provide a range of support options. Networks provide women entrepreneurs with opportunities to establish both business partnerships and friendships with other women working in their sector, with business people working in different industries, and with women representing a range of nationalities. Support includes technological assistance and guidance for women balancing family and professional life, with multiple networks to choose from. A number of global business networks have also become established in the economy, further providing business development support, increasing exposure to new business ideas, and opening access to business opportunities.

Networks that support women’s access to capital and assets: 

This financial association aims to promote the professionalism of the financial industry in Singapore, particularly focused on women. Specific activities include: (1) supporting a networking platform; (2) holding events including seminars and presentations to support...more

Networks that support women’s access to markets: 

Established in 2002 by the SBF Act, the federation promotes the interests of the Singapore businesses on issues of trade, investment, and industrial relations. Every company in Singapore with a paid-up share capital of SGD 0.5 million (US$ 375,000) is a member. As such,...more

IWFCI is an international nonprofit NGO established in 1992 to address the needs of business women. The federation focuses on opening up trade opportunities for women across the Asia Pacific region. As such, IWFCI has offices in China, India, Korea, Russia, and the...more

Networks that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business: 

Business and Professional Women’s Association (Singapore)–Third Chapter was established in 1999. Besides promoting the interests of business and professional women, the association encourages community...more

This group brings together entrepreneurs, professionals, business people, investors, and coaches and hosts Meetups, seminars, and social events. It has 331 members.more

Founded in 2001, BPW Singapore is affiliated with the International Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW International), which has affiliates in 95 economies across five continents. BPW Singapore has the following chapters:...more

The Indian Women’s Association was founded in 1998 as a social and cultural club. Membership is open to women residing in Singapore who are of Indian origin or those who have married Indian men. The association aims to connect and support Singapore’s Indian community....more

Formed in 1956 and with a chapter in Singapore, ICSB is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting management education for entrepreneurs and small businesses. It accomplishes this through education, research, and ideas exchange. Council members represent a range...more

The Meetup community in Singapore is active with groups supporting working women and all entrepreneurs. Meetup is a website that allows people to organize a group to gather for informal networking around a particular topic of interest.

Established in 1997, PrimeTime provides a unique experience for women looking for professional, social, and community fulfillment with an international group in a convivial environment in Singapore. PrimeTime offers a variety of activities that include speakers,...more

SBPWA began in 1972 and is one of the first women business clubs in Singapore with international connections and recognition. Its affiliation with the Federation of Business and Professional Women Singapore (BPW Singapore) and Business and Professional Women (BPW)...more

Officially chartered in 1986, SBPWA–Mandarin Chapter is an affiliate of the Federation of Business and Professional Women (Singapore) and a member of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organizations. The Use of Mandarin campaign by the Singapore government in 1985 inspired...more

This network connects entrepreneurs through a monthly event hosted by Project:Senso Ltd. The group is open to aspiring or existing entrepreneurs. As of June 2016, the group had 12,000 members. more

This group is for business women in Singapore and has over 700 members on LinkedIn. The network meets monthly. more

This group aims to support young, new entrepreneurs who want to build their knowledge and learn about business. It aims to expose young people to the realities of entrepreneurship and build a support network for those on the path. The group has monthly meetings and has...more

Established in Singapore in 2012, The Athena Network Singapore is part of a global network, originally developed in the UK, that is open to female executives and entrepreneurs across numerous sectors. The network supports women in building their networks internationally...more

This Meetup group supports women who are interested in leaving their jobs to become business owners or consultants. It provides a space for them to network to discuss their fears and successes. more

This Meetup group is a network for women professionals, executives, and entrepreneurs. It provides a forum for them to share information, experiences, ideas, and successes as well as build their network. At least 900 women have participated in this group and, as of June...more

Under the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Women’s Indian Network works to promote the entrepreneurial spirit among Indian Women in Singapore. The network represents women’s interests under the chamber and is a forum where members and the Indian...more

This Meetup group provides a platform for women at all professional levels to connect. The group targets stay-at-home moms, working professionals, and entrepreneurs. This group has more than 1,000 members.more

Networks that support women’s leadership, voice and agency: 

This organization was started in 1980 by a group of women leaders led by Ms. Caroline Lam of the Business & Professional Women’s Association. SCWO is an umbrella body that unites 57 member organizations representing more than 500,000 women in Singapore. SCWO’s aims...more

Run by the Singapore Council of Women’s Organizations, the Women’s Register was launched by the then Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon, in 2007 to inspire, educate, and harness the power of women. The Women’s Register...more

Begun in 2008, this network was conceptualized by Mrs. Lim Hwee Hua and UBS Singapore to serve as a platform to support young women leaders at the university-to-work stage of their lives. This is accomplished through mentorship, enrichment, networking, and community...more

Networks that support women and innovation and technology: 

Established in 2013, Connected Women is an initiative that aims to increase technology adoption by women in business and start-ups. It is organized by the Athena Network Singapore and provides networking opportunities and information sessions designed for women-led SMEs...more

Private-sector initiatives in Singapore provide broad-based support for women entrepreneurs. For example, there are loan programs for new businesses and IT learning opportunities, even for those new to current technologies. In addition to opportunities to connect in groups, Singapore’s private sector and networking initiatives offer women entrepreneurs many opportunities for one-on-one learning. Mentorships are offered at the university and professional level. Initiatives such as Mums@Work Singapore ensure that women have access to the support and role models critical to balancing a busy life and building the confidence to enter or re-enter the workforce.

Initiatives that support women’s access to capital and assets: 

AVPN is a unique funders network headquartered in Singapore that seeks to increase the flow of financial, human and intellectual capital to the social sector across the Asia Pacific region. We promote venture philanthropy in the broader philanthropic and social...more

CRIB (Creating Responsible and Innovative Businesses) is a Singapore-based business incubator targeted at women entrepreneurs.  Services include a business partner matchmaking program, a business incubator program, and networking opportunities within the CRIB community....more

OCBC Bank offers OCBC Business First Loans to new businesses. These are collateral-free loans under the government-assisted SPRING Singapore-backed Micro Loan Program....more

Initiatives that support women’s access to markets: 

No information available. Contact us if you know of a network that fits this criteria.

Initiatives that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business: 

AVPN is a unique funders network headquartered in Singapore that seeks to increase the flow of financial, human and intellectual capital to the social sector across the Asia Pacific region. We promote venture philanthropy in the broader philanthropic and social...more

CRIB (Creating Responsible and Innovative Businesses) is a Singapore-based business incubator targeted at women entrepreneurs.  Services include a business partner matchmaking program, a business incubator program, and networking opportunities within the CRIB community....more

Founded in 2010, this initiative is for mothers who want to start a small business or who currently run a small business in Singapore. The objective is to provide a platform to support these women to balance their business and motherhood. This initiative offers the...more

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is a national confederation of trade unions in the industrial, service, and private sectors in Singapore. NTUC’s LearningHub (LHUB) is the largest continuing...more

The Hub Singapore provides a physical space with a mission to “create environments that inspire, connect and enable people to realize entrepreneurial ideas for sustainable impact.”  Their nearly 500 participants, drawn from across sectors, connect, mentor, and create...more

Initiatives that support women’s leadership, voice and agency: 

No information available. Contact us if you know of a network that fits this criteria.

Initiatives that support women and innovation and technology: 

Founded in 2007 and based in San Francisco, California, Girls in Tech is a global nonprofit focusing on the “engagement, education and empowerment of influential women in technology and entrepreneurship.” Girls in Tech Singapore began in 2012 and hosts Singapore-specific...more

The IT Hub was opened in 2001 by the Singapore Council of Women’s Organizations through the Infocom Development Authority of Singapore’s E-Ambassador program. The IT Hub offers several classes to teach students basic computer skills like Microsoft Word, simple image...more

There is no shortage of government services to entrepreneurs in Singapore, and these services are gender-neutral by design. International Enterprise Singapore, the government agency driving Singapore’s external economy, offers a range of financial and nonfinancial assistance to promote internationalization of all Singapore-based companies. SPRING Singapore and the Action Community for Entrepreneurship support home-grown enterprises. A microloan program brings together over 10 financial institutions to support micro-entrepreneurs. The government also offers economy-wide financial literacy programs and innovative remote work-stations to fill the increasing need for flexible work arrangements. Singapore has designated a national Smart Nation vision, which aims to “harness ICT, networks, and data to support better living, create more opportunities, and to support strong communities”. The efforts, led by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, will focus on infrastructure, policies, ecosystem, and capabilities.

To address Singapore’s labor shortage (caused in part by low fertility rates and an ageing population), the member economy government has chosen a strategy that seeks to address the challenge of work-life balance. In a 2013 online survey conducted by Accenture, 74 percent of Singaporean women said they turned down jobs because of concerns about work-life balance. Just 50 percent of men have turned down job offers for this reason. In January 2013, the member economy government announced enhancements to the Marriage and Parenthood Package to help working couples balance work and family commitments, and to encourage shared parental repsonsibility. Starting in May 2013, employers were mandated to provide eligible working parents with government-paid extended child care leave, adoption leave, paternity leave, and shared parental leave. The government also works with various partners to enhance the quality, accessibility and affordability of child and elder care facilities to better support families in their care functions and responsibilities.

Other efforts include the introduction of a SGD 170 million (US$127.5 million) WorkPro scheme comprising a Work-Life Grant and a Flexi Works! scheme, to provide funding support for employers to implement work-life measures and redesign jobs to create and sustain a more supportive environment for Singaporeans to form and raise families. The Work-Life Grant has two components: a Developmental Grant to help employers put in place flexible work arrangements (FWAs) and other work-life programs; and a FWA Incentive to motivate employers who support more employees on FWAs. Organizations may adopt either or both components of the Work-Life Grant. In July 2014, more incentives for employers to try out FWAs were rolled out, including a SGD 10,000 (US$7,500) grant for bosses who try the Flexi Works! scheme.

There is also financial incentive under the Working Mother’s Child Relief (WMCR) scheme to encourage married women to remain in the workforce after having children. To be eligible, a woman must be a working mother who is married, divorced or widowed, earning taxable income, and with a child who is a Singapore citizen. Eligible women can claim 15 percent of their earned income for their first child, 20 percent for their second child, and 25 percent for their third and subsequent child.

It is important to note that the schemes in place "reflect the prevailing societal norm where marriage is the first step toward family formation,” according to Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister. Still more can be done to boost female employment and entrepreneurship at large, for single or married women with children or without. These include more funding for education of women, more subsidies and grants for women to further their education and upgrade their skills, cash grants for employers to recruit and train older women under the existing Wage Credit Scheme (WCS), and more financial assistance and facilities for childcare and elderly care, as these activities often fall to women.

To encourage overall employment, in 2014, the Singapore government announced the SkillsFuture Council, which steers a national movement to provide Singaporeans with the opportunities to develop their education, career, and access relevant trainings. All Singaporeans have access to the initiative through SkillsFuture credits that can be put towards training and skills upgrading.

Services that support women’s access to capital and assets: 

The ACE Start-ups grant provides funding support to entrepreneurial Singaporeans who want to take their first step in starting up differentiated businesses. The grant can be used for business development expenses such as manpower and operating expenses, purchase of...more

IE Singapore is a government agency spearheading the overseas growth of Singapore-based companies and promoting international trade. In 2014, IE Singapore assisted over 28,000 Singapore-based companies in their internationalization drive. Eight thousand companies...more

JTC LaunchPad is a unique creative enclave where start-ups and incubators in industries such as science and engineering, biomedical, electronics, information, and media as well as founders, entrepreneurs, product developers and venture capitalists can network and grow. A...more

This program disburses loans of up to SGD 100,000 (US$ 75,000) to local SMEs with 10 or fewer employees. The loan is to be used for daily operations or for automating and upgrading factory and equipment. There is a minimum 5.50 percent interest rate for a loan tenure of...more

This is an equity based co-financing option for Singapore-based start-ups with innovative products or processes with intellectual content and strong growth potential across international markets. To qualify for funding, the start-up must have identified a potential...more

Services that support women’s access to markets: 

The ACE Overseas Chapter service helps start-ups gain access and connect to select overseas markets by establishing connections and platforms there. The first Overseas Chapter was set up in Beijing in June 2012, bringing together Singapore entrepreneurs with Chinese...more

This portal, established in 2006, is open to all free of charge and offers a single point of access at anytime and anywhere to a range of comprehensive information on government assistance programs, regulations, and e-services for businesses from 52 partners. Aspiring...more

This is a one-stop business services center to assist Singapore companies venturing into China. It was jointly launched by IE Singapore and the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCCI), and offers integrated services including business advice, market...more

Services that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business: 

IE Singapore helps build the capacity of outward-looking Singapore-based businesses by recommending the right clinics, holding third-party...more

The IE Singapore website provides market guides, research databases, and trade statistics for businesses. Entrepreneurs can also consult with IE officers; attend iAdvisory Seminars to learn about...more

This is a national financial education program started in 2003 to equip Singaporeans with the basic knowledge and capabilities to make informed financial decisions, whether for basic money management, planning ahead to meet financial needs and goals like buying a home,...more

These 12 centers were set up in conjunction with trade associations and chambers of commerce to assist entrepreneurs regardless of gender with business connections, information, and to explore business collaborations. Each SME Centre is staffed by a team of business...more

Services that support women’s leadership, voice and agency: 

With the support of the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the Diversity Action Committee (DAC) was formed in August 2014, comprising prominent business leaders and professionals from the public and private sectors to build up the representation of women on...more

The DTF was set up in 2012 to examine the state of gender diversity on boards and in senior management positions of companies listed on the Singapore Exchange. The DTF comprised industry leaders from the private and people sectors. In April 2014, the DTF issued its...more

This alliance works in partnership with employer organizations, unions and the government to create awareness and facilitate the adoption of fair, responsible and merit-based employment practices. TAFEP provides tools and resources, including training workshops, advisory...more

Services that support women and innovation and technology: 

IDA aspires to build an innovation-driven economy where technology start-ups play a core role in injecting the necessary innovation and vibrancy into the tech ecosystem. Accordingly, IDA offers a range of services to prospective tech start-ups. Services include an...more

The People’s Association online portal gives a complete listing of IT courses delivered in CCs around Singapore. The portal includes fee-based courses on Microsoft Office, digital design, Adobe products, basic computing, smartphone use, and more. more

These centers aim to bring work closer to homes and the community. Begun in May 2014 in three public libraries, SWCs are the result of collaboration between IDA and the National Library Board, and are operated by global flexible workspace provider Regus. The centers...more

This is a competitive grant to provide support and resources to help entrepreneurs convert their technology ideas into promising businesses. There is support to grow past the seed stage and obtain third-party funding to achieve growing revenues. The grant funds proof-of-...more

This is an initiative started in 2008 under the National Framework for Innovation and Enterprise program. Under the TIS, the NRF co-invests up to 85 percent of investment (capped at SGD 850,000 per company) into a Singapore based start-up. The partnering technology...more