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Working mothers propping up flagging Singapore contract market

Financial services firms are not renowned for offering flexible working. For women in the sector, taking time out to have a child invariably means stalling their career progression, particularly in the front office. In Asia, however, a new trend is emerging – working mothers reinventing themselves as contractors.

This might seem like a symptom of financial services organisations’ inability to keep the career path of female employees on track after children enter the equation, but recruiters in the region suggest that mothers are embracing a buoyant contractor market and the opportunity to spend large chunks of the year with their children.

Ben Yang Yi Poh, a Singapore-based consultant specialising in contract roles at recruiters Huxley, says that mothers with financial services expertise are increasingly taking contract roles. The idea is that they work for six months of the year and spend the remaining time helping their children with schoolwork and exams.

Predictably, these are not client facing roles, but the boom in change management focused positions across compliance, regulatory programmes, finance and IT has meant that there’s no shortage of opportunities.

In large financial centres like London and New York, contract roles usually pay a 15% premium on an equivalent permanent position. In Singapore, contract pay is on a par with a permanent role, but without any of the benefits. Therefore, these working mothers are not doing it for the money, but instead for the flexibility it offers.

However, getting back into a full-time position after a few years’ contracting can be tough. Working mothers are having to make a call on their careers. “If the kids settle well in school and they have good family support, mothers can go back to work full-time provided they get work-life balance,” says Stella Tang, managing director of Robert Half Singapore.

But life is rarely this simple and the practicalities of caring for children often lead many women to continue on the contract route. The need for flexible working arrangements for working mothers often leads to conflicts internally or, suggests Richie Holliday, APAC COO at recruiters Morgan McKinley potentially “cause resentment”. The key is effective communication with managers and colleagues, he suggests.

But the dynamics of the contract market are moving in favour of working mothers. On the one hand, opportunities are increasing and supply is a big issue – the Asian contract market is still relatively underdeveloped as finance professionals prefer the security of a full-time role.

Chris Graham, a Hong Kong-based associate director for banking and finance at the recruiting firm Hudson, says: “It’s about culture. If you are a contractor, people think there is something wrong with you.”

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