Kopi with MP/BC: MP Gan Siow Huang and BC Theodora Lai on helping S’pore’s working women with big-picture policies and personal-scale society support


How many hats does a woman wear as a working mum in Singapore?

There is the career woman hat. Then the wife hat and the daughter hat. Also the mum hat  — which we have left for last because it is actually many other important hats combined into one: housekeeper, chef, caregiver, entertainer, personal shopper, event coordinator and counsellor.

PAP Member of Parliament Gan Siow Huang (Marymount SMC) and Sengkang North PAP Branch Chair (BC) Theodora Lai shared their role-changing experiences in a Petir.sg exclusive.

Before entering politics, Gan was our nation’s first female general in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). On top of that, she is also a mum of three, balancing a demanding work tempo while her children were growing up.

Meanwhile, those who follow Lai on social media would note the many cute moments she shares with her little girl, who turns three this year. The first-time mum juggles that immense duty with being the director of a venture capital firm and walking through Sengkang on weekends to solve its problems alongside her “bandmates”.

So when we meet one sunny morning in the heart of Marymount for Kopi with MP, the duo soon find themselves discussing the expectations women in Singapore face, what young women entering the workforce should know, and what they think of men.

It is a conversation springing forth from years of lived experience and anecdotes gathered from different sorts of Singaporean moms, wives, workers and daughters — as well as the knowledge that big-picture policies and smaller-scale societal support do wonders for the roles which women are expected to play in and outside the home.

Expectations on women

“Singapore being an Asian society, there are still expectations that mothers, whether they are working or not, do still carry the heavier load of caregiving and household duties at home,” observes Gan.

“And I see that this is a societal expectation. Not just from men, but women themselves, too.”

That meets with immediate agreement from Lai.

“Yes!” she says. “Ourselves, yeah!”


What challenges do working women in Singapore face? Minister of State Ms Gan Siow Huang and Branch Chairperson of Sengkang North Ms Theodora Lai candidly share their thoughts about such challenges. #fypsg #sgtiktok

♬ original sound – love&lightning – love&lightning

Mom guilt is real,” points out Lai. Which, considering how work culture is about striving for excellence, means that it coexists with the very natural desire to give our best to our little ones back at home.

“So managing expectations for ourselves is one big hurdle. Many working moms want to be good at work and also be good at home, right? And it’s not always easy,” says Gan.

“And it’s something that we can work through.”

That is one reason why Gan pushes, at both the levels of policy and partnership, for more companies to adopt flexible work arrangements (FWA). Whether it’s flexi-place, flexi-time or flexi-workload, FWA can help parents better manage their career and family commitments.

“We should allow employers and employees to determine which mode of FWA suits their needs,” says Gan.

“Building a common understanding, on issues such as flexible work arrangements, and empathy, would be conducive for working women to continue,” notes Lai.

Lai, who was previously Chairperson of the PAP’s Public Policy Forum (PPF), highlighted the consensus that there is long-term benefit to everyone when women can balance work and home responsibilities properly.

Confidence and mentorship for young women

And for young women entering the workforce, which is a vastly different world from school and studies, Gan and Lai have two pieces of life advice: a) Don’t let self-doubt make you say “no” and b) get a mentor.

“I feel that women — especially younger women who have not yet formed their own families — tend to doubt whether they will be able to manage family and work at the same time,” says Gan.

“And sometimes they choose to dial back, choose to forgo opportunities for promotion, or overseas posting, or projects that could be more demanding, exciting, but can open up more opportunity.”

“Don’t let self-doubt hold you back. Just go for it. Have the courage — be bold!” she adds.

 “Know that there are many people very willing to support women.”


We cannot think of anyone more suitable to advise younger Singaporean women just about to embark on their careers than these two accomplished ladies.

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There are in fact plenty of other women out there who have blazed the trail and can share some of that lightning within them.

“My advice is: Find a female mentor!” Lai shares.

“Having a mentor to go back to and just pop questions here and there, whether about family, about career, about further studies, was truly a valuable relationship to me.”

“I found my mentor through the Young Women’s Leadership Connection,” she adds.

“This mentoring program in my final year of university — and the relationship that carried on way past the nine months that the program was for — that kept me guided throughout my career and personal life.”

Today, Lai and Gan are paying it forward and actively involved in mentoring younger women.

And that is a ground-level shift in society which will steadily make the Singapore of tomorrow a more equitable place for women.

Family members complement each other

That said, where can men fit into all these policies and shifts?

Modern fathers do get invested in caregiving; at feeding and taking care of babies, observes Gan. So having men share the load at home is a chance for them to shine.

“Home responsibilities need to be shared,” says Lai when it comes keeping a home in order amid the chaos of everyday life.

After all, it is only right for dual-income households to divide their financial and household responsibilities, quips Lai.

While it may not be always equal, this sharing is about empathy and understanding for one’s spouse.

“That maybe if this week is tough for me, next week I’ll try to chip in more. That understanding would go a long way,” explains Lai.

“If you love each other, you’re not going to calculate these things, right?” muses Gan.

“You want to do something for your partner out of love. I think that should be the way: Share the joy, share the work, share the woes together as a couple. That is what I hope to see more of in Singapore families.”

It will be easier for men to have this sharing from 2024 with more paid paternity leave because of a PAP Government policy shift, in fact.

“Actually it’s going to be doubled to four weeks from next year onwards,” details Gan.

 “I hope all fathers will use up their paternity leave to spend time with their newborns and to take care of their families.”

Source: Gan Siow Huang/ Facebook, Theodora Lai/ Facebook