Men Who Work in Female-dominated Industries in Singapore: What Next?
By Alicia (Editor)
Traditional efforts for women’s workplace inclusion
Women have traditionally been the focus of efforts to improve diversity in the workplace. Legislature protecting women, workplace diversity policies, upskilling of female workers and the promotion of women to leadership positions are all staples in gender equality efforts in Singapore, enacted to ensure equality and greater opportunity for female workers.  Women are currently the target of most of the professional support offered by educational institutions, government organisations and private enterprises alike to pursue fulfilling career lives. More specifically, these initiatives often target industries where women traditionally face higher barriers to entry due to the prevalence of men. Many of these factors like societal expectations of women’s capabilities and level of involvement at work, a lack of support from experienced mentors, or the possibility of workplace sexual harrassment, often hinder women from joining these workplaces, leading to an underrepresentation of women in crucial industries that drive our economies. 
Within NUS, there are many initiatives already present to help female undergraduates cope in male-dominated working environments. Notable female speakers like Ms Josephine Teo and other professionals have been invited to discuss gender parity in dialogues organized by NUS such as the Women of Wonder In Conversation (WoW) held in 2021.  NUS has even organised a module recently called Women’s Professional Development Programme (CFG1050), which seeks to equip women with the necessary skills to navigate the workplace as a woman. 
In traditionally male-dominated areas such as STEM industries and politics, the advancements that women have made are even more stark. Women have nearly doubled their representation in local politics, from 12 percent in 2001 to 21 percent in 2006, in what can be categorised as a watershed moment for female empowerment in Singapore.  Today, women hold about 29% of the seats in Parliament, a figure higher than ever before.  More women are also now employed in STEM industries, with MOM reporting that the percentage of women in these industries has increased from 29.9% in 2015 to 32.4% in 2020.  Women are benefitting immensely from the aid given to them in recent times as society becomes more open to the prospect of women working in traditionally male-dominated fields; despite the inequalities women might still face, they are now more well-equipped with the skills needed to overcome them.
Do men need help too with gender equality at the workplace?
What about men? As careers become increasingly less gendered, more men are also making the transition to workplaces that are traditionally dominated by women, such as childcare, education or nursing. However, in comparison with their female counterparts who have seen increased representation in male-dominated industries (slightly less than 30% of scientific researchers worldwide are female, for example), men have lagged behind in entering women-dominated industries. 
In Singapore, 12 percent of registered nurses in 2021 are men, compared to 8.5 percent in 2011.  In Singapore’s early childhood education sector, less than 1% of preschool educators are men.  While some progress has been made for men in recent years, these are stark figures that should not be ignored if we are to ensure that gender equality applies to both men and women.
Many of these men face similar gender-specific difficulties in navigating a female-dominated workplace as their female counterparts. Despite having less obvious barriers to entry into female-dominated industries, men still suffer the brunt of social stigma against them for choosing to embark on women-dominated professions.
Historically, male-dominated industries require strong levels of technical and logical thinking while female-dominated industries require employees to demonstrate high levels of emotional investment, nurturing, and care. While steps have been taken to prove that women are able to cross the gendered boundaries delineating the types of work they take on, the reverse is not as commonly observed. Men may be perceived to be effeminate if they choose to enter female-dominated industries, which deviates from traditional expectations of masculinity.  They may also be seen as incompetent for these jobs that often require a lot of empathy and caretaking – not possessing the nurturing disposition that makes them suitable in handling those under their care. Yet, they are given far less aid to destigmatize their entrance into the workplace, mentor and equip them with relevant skills and ensure they have an environment in which they can thrive.
How can we help men transition to female-dominated workplaces?
Why is it so important to get men into female-dominated industries? With the emphasis on fields like STEM, business and politics – in which women have already made great strides – men should similarly be given the opportunity and resources to break into female-dominated work places. Industries benefit from a diverse range of employees, and adding the male perspective into a female-dominated industry can value-add to these professions. More male presence in these workplaces can break away from the traditional ideals of masculinity in favour of a more holistic way of looking at men in general.
Preschoolers, for instance, can benefit from seeing a male figure in their education. The men present as great role model male figures, which is hugely important for young children in their development.  For many children with the lack of suitable male role model figures in their lives, male preschool educators can serve as a good substitute for them to model appropriate relationship patterns and behaviours. Moreover, the presence of men is normalized in these female-dominated industries and there is greater diversity among workers in terms of thought or presence. Thus, it is important to acknowledge the role men can play in these industries, and help increase their participation similar to how we have helped women in the past few decades.
How can we help these men then? Firstly, we need to destigmatise the gender stereotypes attached to the jobs they take on, similar to how we have largely already done for women. This will allow more men to feel welcome in the industries they would like to enter, and not feel intimidated by the gendered expectations and stereotypes that come along with it.
Secondly, we need to create more opportunities for men to break into these industries. Seminars or focus group discussions could be held for men in women-dominated industries to air their concerns, and mentorship programmes could be organised to guide men through the unique challenges posed to them by their workplaces. In Singapore, an online community for male preschool teachers has already been created (instagram handle: @meninpreschoolssg), where these men attempt to deconstruct the stereotypes that come along with the job and raise awareness about the challenges they face at work. 
Lastly, men seeking employment in such industries need support from their communities to pursue the lines of work they want without a gendered lens holding them back. Families and friends alike should do their best to support men in whatever career path they choose to embark on, especially if it is unconventional to male gender expectations. Oftentimes, moral support and perseverance are the key driving factors that push people to break conventions and spark new narratives about gender inclusivity.
We have done a lot for women in the past few decades to pursue their dream careers without gender stigma, but what about men? We need to ensure that men also get an equal fighting chance to pursue their passions without the stigma or structural barriers that currently hold many men back, similar to what women have already received. Only then will we be able to ensure that gender equality is not only applicable to women, but also for men.
 Theresa Devasahayam, ‘Talking Point(s): What Singaporean Female Politicians Choose to Say in Parliament’, Femina Politica 22, no. 2 (2013): p. 38.
Alicia is a Year 2 Political Science and History Major and is constantly drowning in readings because she chose to take only PS and HY mods this semester. She is interested in how politics relates to not only international and local affairs, but the personal domain, a topic she would like to explore in The Convergence. She is particularly interested in the topics of socioeconomic inequality and gender issues, since these are issues deeply personal to her. When she is not in her mancave hiding from the rest of society, gaming or mugging, she can be found playing badminton or squash somewhere in NUS or going out with friends.