Professor Aaron Thean
Dean, NUS Faculty of Engineering
Distinguished Guests and Speakers
Students and Alumni
1. Good afternoon. I am honoured to join you today for the inaugural Women in NUS Engineering Event.
Singapore’s Progress in Women’s Development
2. It has been more than 25 years since I was a postgraduate student at NUS Engineering. Definitely much has changed – and quite positively, like the gender balance. Back then, no more than 1 in 5 of engineering students were women. Today, it’s about 3 in 10 – an encouraging increase, even though there is room for improvement.
3. More importantly, beyond the numbers, it reflects a broader shift within our society. Where both women and men are more equally empowered to achieve their potential and career aspirations more today than before. A society where women are less likely to be denied opportunities on the basis of their gender or even familial commitments.
4. Singapore’s progress in women’s development has also been recognised internationally. Last year, the UN Human Development ranked us a respectable 12th out of 162 countries on the Gender Inequality Index.
5. We could have only achieved this because of strong commitment and partnership between the Government, private companies, community, and individuals toward advancing Singapore women’s standing. As a nation, we value the importance of respect and partnership between men and women; and recognise that it is not about fighting for rights of one group over the other, in a zero-sum manner.
6. Notwithstanding the significant strides that Singapore women have made, we believe that more can be done. This was why we embarked on a year-long nation-wide Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development last September. We organised 160 conversations, involving more than 5,700 participants – from all walks of life – who shared their aspirations and ideas with us. These will be consolidated into a White Paper to be discussed in Parliament next year.
Encouraging more women to take up STEM
7. During the Conversations, we had received some feedback about gender stereotypes and the limited representation of women in fields that are traditionally male dominated. For example, in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). This is not an issue unique to us. In fact, an entire session was devoted to discussing this at the G20 Ministerial Conference on Women’s Empowerment which I attended in Italy two weeks ago.
8. In Singapore, we are wholly committed to address gender stereotypes, and to support our women to pursue careers of their interest – regardless of whether it’s perceived to be male-dominated or not. I will share three examples:
a) First, this effort begins early in our schools, where students are guided and encouraged to explore career sectors based on an understanding of their interests and strengths. This is done in a structured manner through Education and Career Guidance, which is part of the Character and Citizen Education curriculum.
b) Second, through the Self-Help Group (SHG) initiatives for example like the Young Mendaki Club, we encourage those who have succeeded and done well in their careers, to come back to contribute their time and talent by sharing their life experiences with students, especially those from less advantaged backgrounds – inspiring them to explore careers of their interest, including STEM related fields. We too hope that these students can return in future, when they have done well, to give back in a similar manner, creating a cycle of virtue and giving in our society. I am glad that NUS Engineering also has a similar initiative through the Alumni Mentorship Programme to provide our undergraduates with similar career guidance. Do also consider giving an inspiring career programme for our young girls, even in primary schools, to nudge them to stay on STEM and become engineers like you. I’m sure the SHGs will welcome you!
c) Third, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has launched the SG Women in Tech Movement to attract, develop and retain women talent across a diversity of jobs in the Infocomm and Technology sector.
9. Beyond supporting more women to enroll in STEM courses and to pursue careers in related fields, we also endeavor to promote greater equality, support and protection of women at home, schools, workplaces and the community.
Year of Celebrating SG Women
10. Finally, as you may already know, we have designated 2021 as the Year of Celebrating SG Women to celebrate how far Singapore women have come, and their achievements in our society. With respect as the cornerstone of the rapport and partnership between women and men, we celebrate their multi-faceted roles across society. We also celebrate the men who help to debunk stereotypes, change mindsets, and play an active role in partnering, supporting and uplifting women.
11. In closing, I am confident that today’s event will provide participants with valuable insights on the lives and career paths of women in engineering. Inspiring many more women to join the industry!
12. May we also continue to work together as a society, to advance Singapore women’s development, and to build a fairer and more inclusive Singapore, for both women and men alike – not only for ourselves, but also for generations after us.
13. Thank you.