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1 in 2 people experienced discrimination at work, Aware-Milieu survey shows

One in two people has experienced workplace discrimination, and cases involving race are the most common, followed by those involving age and gender.

People with disabilities, LGBTQ persons and women experienced more workplace discrimination than others.

These results from the first survey on workplace discrimination conducted by gender advocacy group Aware and consumer research company Milieu Insight were released in a virtual media sharing on Tuesday.

Ms Corinna Lim, Aware's executive director, said she hopes that the survey results can contribute to Singapore's upcoming anti-discrimination legislation.

The Milieu survey was conducted last month, a year after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore would enact anti-discrimination legislation.

A sample of 1,000 respondents were polled on their experiences of direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and harassment in the workplace in the last five years.

Indirect discrimination refers to workplace policies that apply to all staff, but disproportionately affect a marginalised group.

Ms Lim said: "The findings highlight particular 'pain points' that deserve attention, such as indirect discrimination, which is frequently left out of conversations and policy decisions.

"We hope the legislation can employ an expansive definition of discrimination, one that captures the full range of experiences workers face at all points of the employment cycle."

This spans from promotion opportunities to recruitment, she said.

She added: "Anti-discrimination legislation must also include a comprehensive range of protected characteristics, including sexual orientation, gender identity and disability."

She said the current fair employment guidelines by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) are inadequate as employers find loopholes around it. Instead of merely listing what companies can and cannot do, they should define discrimination, she said.

She cited a case of pregnancy discrimination. Tafep guidelines say an employee must be hired for 90 days before she can get paid maternity leave. But one company hired a woman for 88 days and then renewed her contract to get away with giving her the due protections.

Trainer Nimera (not her real name) told reporters at the event that she felt "attacked" as the only Malay-Muslim in her former department when the company issued a circular saying that the wearing of religious headgear is banned as it looks unprofessional.

"Why couldn't they have come to me directly to work out a solution?" she said.

Selena (not her real name), a transgender woman in her 40s, recounted how she was told to use the male toilet and was asked intrusive questions by interviewers and colleagues such as whether she would wear a wig when her hair was still short and if she had undergone a sex reassignment operation.

The survey also found that 54 per cent of those who felt discriminated at work did not report it to any channels such as a boss, the company's human resources department or the Manpower Ministry. They did not believe the discrimination was severe enough, did not trust the authorities to act on their report or did not have enough evidence of discrimination.

Almost the same proportion - about 28 per cent - of respondents who reported discrimination and those who did not report it ended up quitting their jobs.

Thirty-four per cent of those who reported discrimination avoided their perpetrator as much as possible, 29 per cent requested a transfer to another department or location, and 13 per cent refrained from applying for jobs in the same industry.

Of those who did not report discrimination, 23 per cent avoided their perpetrator, 4 per cent requested a transfer, while 4 per cent did not look for jobs in the industry.

"The adverse career impacts on even those who did report discrimination are a grim indictment of organisations' ability to deal with this issue," said Ms Lim.

"It's clear that companies cannot be relied upon to tackle discrimination on their own without further incentive and guidance."

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