More than 1.1 million foreigners are living and working in Singapore, making up almost a third of the overall workforce of 3.4 million people. Additionally, there are more than 7,000 multinational companies in Singapore, making this city-state a true hub of diversity.

Diversity is part of the fabric of Singapore; it’s what helps this city-state thrive, and what has helped it become a major player on the world stage of business and opportunity.

However, there are areas where Singapore could certainly improve its workplace diversity. For example, one study by Workday on Singapore workplaces showed that just over half of local companies had less than 20% of women in leadership roles. Additionally, 60% of survey respondents said they felt their companies weren’t doing enough to support disabled workers.

That said, Singapore is working to improve its diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Read on to learn more about why workplace diversity is a goal every company should strive for, what laws are currently in place for diversity and employing foreigners, and examples of companies that are leading the way.

Related: Beyond confidence: 3 strategies to help female leaders rise

The benefits of diversity in the workplace

In an increasingly competitive market, businesses need to look for any ways they can create an edge over the competition. In many cases, companies are finding that more workplace diversity and inclusion is leading to better business outcomes.

So how is it that diversity helps a business win? There are a number of workplace diversity benefits that any company can tap into. 

Firstly – and perhaps most obviously – a diverse workplace is often much better suited to serve a diverse customer base. A workforce with a range of people of different ages, nationalities, genders, and beliefs, is intrinsically better at understanding the needs and viewpoints of a wide range of audiences.

Another bonus is that employers who hire the best of the best, regardless of gender, age, or ethnicity, will benefit from the top talent in the workforce. For example, if an employer is only looking to hire a certain demographic like young women born locally, they may miss out on other candidates like older, foreign, or male workers who could do a better job and produce better results.

A diverse workplace can also help employers attract new talent, as a company known as an equal opportunity employer may be more attractive to job seekers.

Similarly, a company that’s publically known for its diverse workplace and inclusive position may be more attractive to its customer base. For B2C companies, consumers are increasingly savvy in their purchasing habits, and a positive brand could be what sways a fair-minded buyer. Within B2B, companies may look to partner with other companies that champion diversity.

Workplace diversity laws in Singapore

Singapore’s workplaces are inherently diverse, especially in terms of culture and ethnicity, thanks to the array of nationalities living and working in Singapore.

However, Singapore does not have any specific laws or an employee act against workplace discrimination.

Instead, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) has outlined a number of guidelines for all workplaces in Singapore to follow.

These include:

  • Employers should treat employees fairly and with respect, and create progressive human resource management systems.
  • Reward employees fairly based on performance, ability, contribution, and experience.
  • Provide employees with equal opportunities to be considered for training and development to help them reach their potential. This should be based on the strengths and needs of the individual.
  • Recruit and select on merit regardless of gender, religion, marital status, age, race, family responsibilities, or disability.
  • Comply by all labour laws and abide by the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.

An employer can opt-in to become a TAFEP pledge signer, which means they are committed to these five key principles. To date, more than 5,400 employers have signed the pledge in Singapore.

Additionally, the Diversity Action Committee advocates gender diversity in the workplace by increasing female directors on company boards in Singapore. Their targets are to increase the number of women on boards to 20% by 2020, 25% by 2025, and 30% by 2030.

At the end of June 2018, women representation on the Top 100 SGX-listed companies hit 14.7% – a jump of 20% from the year prior. The number of all-male boards also dropped from 32% to 27% in that time.

 RelatedHow to develop resilience during a crisis

Current laws on hiring foreigners in Singapore

There may be no laws around discrimination, but there are laws around hiring foreigners – although they are largely in place to ensure locals have just as much of a fair chance at applying for jobs as internationals do.

As of 1 July 2018, more Singaporean companies have had to give locals a chance to apply for higher-paying jobs. They must advertise available positions for at least 14 days on the national Jobs Bank before being able to hire a foreigner to fill the role. This applies to companies with 10 or more workers, with jobs that pay under $15,000 per month. Previously, this rule only applied to firms with 26 or more staff for jobs paying less than $12,000 per month.

While these new laws may make it a slower process for employers to hire overseas workers, it does not make it impossible for the right candidate. Foreign workers will then receive a work pass, like an Employment Pass or an S Pass to work with that company in Singapore.

To receive an Employment Pass, foreigners must be at a higher level such as executives or managers, earn at least $3,600 per month, and come with acceptable qualifications.

An S Pass is designed to allow mid-level foreigners to work in Singapore. They must earn at least $2,200 per month, and come with relevant work experience and qualifications. The criteria for the S Pass are to be raised to $2,400 per month from 1 January 2020.

Should a company unfairly favour foreigners over local workers, it can be placed on a watchlist. For example, 500 companies have been put on this watchlist over the past two years by the Ministry of Manpower, making it harder for them to get Employment Pass applications approved.

Singaporean companies at the forefront of workplace diversity

Many Singaporean companies are making improvements when it comes to workplace diversity, but there is a number of businesses that are already standing out for their commitment to the practice.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, for example, explains that it has been working to improve its own workplace diversity for the past decade. It began by focusing on gender but later expanded that goal to include other areas such as age and ethnicity. Today, they employ over 208,000 people around the world, and state that 50% of their talent is female.

Yeoh Oon Jin, the Executive Chairman of PwC Singapore, has said that the company’s diversity helps them create value for stakeholders and clients.

“The ability to work well with people who are different from us is one of the most important business skills today and in the foreseeable future. For us to remain as the #1 professional services firm in Singapore, we need to be inclusive and make the most of the very best talent in the world,” he explained.

Another company at the head of the pack is the Mapletree Commercial Trust. While much less well known than the internationally renowned PricewaterhouseCoopers, this real estate firm is at the top of the table for the Diversity Action Committee’s top 100 primary-listed companies for women’s participation on boards. The Mapletree Commercial Trust has 10 seats on the board, and 40% of those are filled by female directors.

The Mapletree Commercial Trust has also released statistics on its diversity within the workplace, showing that 54% of employees are female.

“Human resource policies are further grounded on equal opportunities and fair employment practices,” states the company’s 2016/17 annual report.

Searching for jobs in Singapore

If you’re looking for a job in Singapore, don’t hesitate to ask your employer about diversity during the interview. Not only will it help you get a good feel of the company’s workplace culture and priorities, but it will also show them you are interested in a fair playing field and that you have an open mind when it comes to your new colleagues.

Read more:
How to make a successful career change
Contracting vs permanent job: Which is better for you?
10 important career lessons most people learn too late in life

We recruit on behalf of the world's top companies. Fast-track your success with the right team. Explore how we can quickly match you with top talent.

Find your next hire

Salary Guide Singapore

Discover your value with salary benchmarks across various industries.

Compare my salary

Build your dream team

We'll quickly match you with skilled and experienced candidates.

Explore Michael Page

Singapore Talent Trends 2023

Unravelling the most profound transformation in work culture since the arrival of the Internet.

Download report

Topics to help you lead & inspire

Advertise your role with us

Advertise Your Role With ReachTalent

If you are looking for a job, you can browse jobs here

Are you hiring?

If you are an employer and would like to discuss your hiring needs, fill in the form below and we will call you back.