55% experienced workplace discrimination in Singapore: AWARE survey

Singapore's central business district. (Reuters file photo)
Singapore's central business district. (Reuters file photo)

SINGAPORE — Over five in 10 workers in Singapore have experienced at least one form of workplace discrimination, be it due to their sexual orientation or race, in the past five years, a recent survey found.

While 55 per cent of them have been discriminated at work, certain groups are more vulnerable to it than others, the survey findings released on Tuesday (20 September) show.

The survey by gender equality group AWARE and consumer research company Milieu Insight polled 1,000 workers in Singapore in August on whether they faced direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and discrimination-related harassment in the previous five years.

Respondents with disabilities were found to have experienced workplace discrimination at a significantly higher rate (78 per cent) than those without (50 per cent). A higher proportion of those who identified as part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community (68 per cent) reported such discrimination, compared with those who did not identify themselves as LGBTQ (56 per cent).

The findings also show that 89 per cent of those who belong to a minority race have experienced workplace discrimination, compared with 44 per cent of those of the majority race.

The findings also show proportionately more female workers were discriminated, with 58 per cent of women having experienced at least one type of discrimination, compared with 53 per cent of men.

The three most common experiences of discrimination were:

  1. Unfair company policies or practices, such as inaccessible office spaces, or prohibitions against flexible schedules that made it difficult for workers to manage family responsibilities

  2. Job advertisements that mandated or specified preference for certain characteristics that were not job requirements

  3. Discriminatory employment practices in relation to performance appraisal and promotion, such as receiving a poorer performance appraisal after disclosing pregnancy, disability or health conditions

Quitting following discrimination

Among the biggest reasons for those who experienced workplace discrimination, 41 per cent of them cited race, followed by age (35 per cent) and gender (23 per cent).

Of those who have experienced discrimination, over 50 per cent did not report any such incidents to a boss, human resources, or authorities. The top three reasons for not doing so were a belief that the discrimination was not “severe” enough, distrust of authorities to act on any such report, and lack of evidence of discrimination.

Twenty-nine per cent of those who reported discrimination and 28 per cent of those who did not do so went on to quit their jobs.

“Our goal with this survey was for the results to contribute to the drafting of Singapore’s upcoming anti-discrimination legislation – the government’s best opportunity to make far-reaching change in this arena,” said AWARE executive director Corinna Lim.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his 2021 National Day Rally speech announced that the government will unveil a new law to prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of nationality, age, race, religion, gender, and disability.

Such laws should "employ an expansive definition of discrimination" and must include a comprehensive range of protected characteristics, including sexual orientation, gender identity and disability, Lim said.

AWARE said there has been a rise in discrimination cases since it began monitoring the trend in recent years, with the number rising to 59 in the first two quarters of 2022, from 44 and 26 in the same period of 2021 and 2020, respectively.

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