She said that when she had first started working, she was expected to serve tea and water to her seniors but all that has changed now. Telecom, she said, was considered a field of engineering-men's domain. But now, she said, mentioning her company SingTel, a large part of the workforce are women even in fields considered as men's reserve.
Vishakha asked Chua a tricky question: is there any link between Singapore's low fertility rate and higher participation of women in the country's workforce?
Chua said there is an inverse relationship between a country's fertility rate and GDP growth--a worldwide trend. But women workers need to understand the priorities in their lives. Women fear that if they get out of work for a year or two for childbearing, they will fall behind in their careers. She said this was a misconception. According to her, there is no harm for women to take a year or two off their work and become mothers. She cited her own example-how she was able to become a mother and yet rise to the top in a global corporation. But one needs a supportive husband to do all this, Chua said, and Alva concurred.
Despite all the progress, Chua noted that women were still not fairly represented at the high table where all big decisions are made. According to a research, only seven per cent of board members were women at the big companies in the Asia Pacific.
Women, no matter where they are, will have to fight for their place at high table to steer the world into a safer and just and equitable place-that was the conclusion of the discussion.
No man will dare to disagree with this. Apart from being allowed a larger role in politics, one way to do bring this change is by ensuring that the gender revolution in science and technology continues unhindered. As Henry Etzkowitz, Namrata Gupta and Carol Kemelgor show in their excellent paper (The gender revolution in science and technology), the confluence between the gender and information technology (IT) revolution has the potential to create a new development paradigm. The spread of ICTs in developing countries will empower women by skills upgradation, enhancement in employment opportunities and income generation for reinvestment and political strength.
If this revolution rolls on unimpeded, perhaps then women will get to do more than just get pink laptops from technology companies. They will shape a new world with their sixth sense and sensibility. They will create new forms of technology. Our present world technology is largely man's creation. What kind of technology women will give birth to-that is something to ponder on.
Meanwhile, more power to the Lisbeth Salanders of this world!
Zafar Anjum is the online editor of FBM Asia's online properties.
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