Stories of Women who debunk stereotypes
Celebrating SG Women Year
Stories of Women who debunk stereotypes
In conjunction with Singapore’s Ministry of Social and Family Development’s ‘Celebrating Women’ Year, two outstanding women from different fields share their stories on breaking the barriers of social norms and pursuing their dreams courageously. Behind these stories are the men who were willing to debunk stereotypes and play an active role in supporting and uplifting women. And it is this support and encouragement that gave the women strength to achieve their best.
Ministry of Social and Family Development has named 2021 as the Year of Celebrating SG Women to recap and celebrate women’s achievements and further promote the progress of women. Minister Masagos shared that the contributions of women are integral to the Singapore story. Since our nation’s early years, the progress and achievements of our SG Women – our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends and colleagues – have shaped our homes, schools, workplaces and communities, bettering every aspect of our society.
As Singapore’s education level improves, statistics have shown that more women are employed in the workforce, rising from 58% in 1995 to 76.1% in 2019. The proportion of female employers have also increased by 8%, from 20% in 2004 to 28%. Singapore’s meritocracy society structure has provided women with opportunities to chase their dreams and start their own businesses.
As beneficiaries of a flexible and more humanised working culture, females can strike a balance between work and family, and this is inseparable from the men who have helped debunk stereotypes and play an active role in supporting and uplifting women. They can be a business leader or even a husband or children, who, while encouraging them to achieve their best, helped write a chapter in these women’s stories.
From housewife to entrepreneur, it’s never too late to pursue one’s dream
Ng Gim Choo (age 68, Founder of EtonHouse International Education Group, EY Entrepreneur of the Year award recipient)
EtonHouse Founder Ng Gim Choo is one of Singapore’s earliest female entrepreneurs, who has been through 25 years of ups and downs. Looking back, her experience shows the transformation of the women’s roles at different stages, an employee, a full-time mother, and an entrepreneur. Ng Gim Choos feels that whether it is at home or in the workplace, the female plays the role of CEO (Chief Emotional Officer). A women’s wisdom is being able to switch among her different roles, balancing both family and career while chasing her dreams. This has nothing to do with her age, gender, and society’s standards and definitions.
Coming from a Chinese education background, Ng Gim Choo studied accounting at university. Through her grit and never-say-die attitude, she overcame her lack of English proficiency and received an honours degree. She stepped into the workforce at the age of 20 and became an outstanding accountant. At the peak of her career, she decided to follow her husband, who was posted to the UK for work and became a full-time mother for the next 12 years, bringing up her three children.
When she was 40, the family returned to Singapore. Because her daughter couldn’t find a similar school to what she had in the UK, she decided to open one herself. In the UK, she frequently volunteered at her daughter’s school. She likes the fun-filled inquiry-based education approach and believed that it would be well-received by parents in Singapore. With the encouragement of her brother and husband, Ng Gim Choo decided to start a school from scratch. For this, she took up an Early Childhood Education Course and was very hands-on, from operations to teaching management.
In the next 20 over years, EtonHouse grew to become an International Education Group with more than 100 international schools and pre-schools in 12 countries. Through the Etonhouse Community Fund, Ng Gim Choo hopes to help children from low-income families. She set up a Play Library where underprivileged families can borrow educational toys for free and initiated the ‘Teacher Everywhere’ programme where they provide training to volunteers from all walks of life to become teacher volunteers to deliver the Joyful Learning reading programme for children from underprivileged families.
During her time, it was uncommon to have female entrepreneurs. There were always doubtful voices around: if it’s too late to start a business at 40, or that there were already many outstanding schools in the early years’ arena. But Ng Gim Choo ignored them all, she was very clear that her direction was different from others, and she just needed to focus on what she wanted to do.
On the journey of starting up EtonHouse, her family were her best companions. If it wasn’t for her husband’s support, Ng Gim Choo felt that she might not be able to persevere. She lost $1 million in her first year of starting the business. When she told her husband the news, he did not blame her but instead comforted and encouraged her. He advised her to focus on delivering quality, and things would turn for the better.
Ng Gim Choo said, “My husband is my supporter. Every time I have a question, I will ask him. As the saying goes, the spectators see the chess game better than the players, and he will always give sound advice. This moral support from my other half is very important. If there’s always someone pouring cold water on something you wanted to do, it will be very difficult to continue. Only when you have their support and encouragement can you move forward with confidence and determination.”
Role switching and caring for the family
At EtonHouse, 90% of our workforce are women. Ng Gim Choo understands that only through a more humanised management style, understanding women’s needs, could she address the challenges to achieve better results with half the effort. She taught at the pre-school before and understands the pain and joy of the job, hence she ensures that the teachers at EtonHouse get sufficient rest days. She believes that only when the teacher has adequate time to rest and accompany her family and care for her own children, could she then give her best to the job. She also values the balance between family and career. When she returns home, she will switch roles to become a wife and mother and avoids talking about work. Last year, she got promoted to become a grandmother to a pair of twins and enjoyed spending time with the family.
In her son’s eyes, who is also her successor, Ng Yi Xian (age 36) shares that his mother’s charm as a female business leader is her ability to listen and empathise, which is different from the traditional male-dominated “one man says” practice. She can take in the views of many with an open mind and embrace multiple possibilities. High efficiency is also a strength of women in the workplace as they “have to take care of family and career, hence they are better at using their time wisely and handling things quickly.” After becoming a dad last year, Ng Yi Xian also feels that he can better appreciate the hardship faced by women who hold multiple roles and developed a deeper understanding of their responsibilities and challenges.