In one of the official dinners with a mission from IDB of Jeddah helping to develop the human capacity on the financial services sector, we talked about the gender differences in Brunei.
The mission was surprised to find that despite the Brunei population which has a slightly more male population and even from birth rates, slightly more male births - the male numerical dominance is not seen in the current make up of the financial services sector. This point was brought home to me the other day when I was going down the elevator at almost 6 pm and it stopped at 2 of our investment agency's floors when more than a dozen lady officers and staff came in to join me. I was the only thorn among the roses. In Treasury Department, out of the almost 300 complement, only about 80 are males. Similar happenings are in UBD and other top tertiary institutions.
Are the observations correct and reflective of the current make up of the working population? Or are we seeing isolated incidences or unusual trends and this is not relective of the overall situation? Policy decisions have to be based on what the actual problems are. We have been talking about general unemployment problem, about the youths - maybe we should be talking about the male unemployment problem or male youths, and that there is nothing wrong with female employment. Similar cases can be raised for other social problems. I raised this in one of my earlier blogs on spaces.msn.com a few months ago when I talked about the difficulties of finding suitable partners especially when the gender make up is skewered to one particular gender.
Another potential issue is career development. Despite the female outnumbering the male at university level and hence at graduate officer entry level, the makeup at the top of the government echelon is male dominated. At our ministry, senior officers meeting will be mostly male with the odd one or two females as roses among the thorns. Yesterday, during the Hari Belia at the Indoor Stadium, I noted that the quadrant where I was seated, among the Deputy Ministers, Constitutional Appointments, Judges, PS, DPS and Senior Directors, there were only about 7 ladies among the 60 odd people among us in that quadrant. Is there a glass ceiling? How has morale been affected? Will it affect future morale? How do we bring up the females? Will it have any effect on population growth in Brunei - less marriages etc as female concentrate on career? Can they do both? Are we over-stereotyping? There are many questions.
Perhaps human capacity building programs have to take into account male and female makeup in the population. In a bigger population, this may even out - any gender imbalances taken over a much bigger number will smoothen any kinks. But in a small population like Brunei, gender imbalances may not be ironed out as easily. Our country is too small for us to lose out any potential people regardless of gender who can in the future be leaders and bring us into the right direction for Brunei. People moved on. In 13 years, I would be retired - I want to make sure that whoever it is in position then can lead Brunei in the right direction. We have to worry for our children. We can't afford to lose out any potential people, be it male or female, who may be able to bring about a brigher future for us.
Having said that, I have to admit that currently I have not thought of any specific solution and probably individually any of us will not be in in any direct position to bring out any change. We should all work together and readers who are in the right place may want to consider this matter in their policy decision making.