16 Lessons And Insights From Women In The Public Service

In the spirit of celebrating women’s achievements, Challenge highlights the work and wisdom of women in various roles across the Public Service. Here are 16 stories you shouldn’t miss.
Challenge is celebrating International Women’s Day by featuring 16 inspiring stories of women in Singapore’s Public Service

Have a Compass to Commitment

1. Why Are You (Still) In Public Service?

“When the city shapes up beautifully, families have good homes, people’s lives improve and their aspirations are fulfilled, the sense of satisfaction is immense.”

Challenge yourself to keep finding meaning in public service work with tips and reminders from Ms Cheong Koon Hean, the first female Chief Executive Officer of the Housing and Development Board.

2. Knowing The “Why” Behind Your Work Can Make It Worthwhile

“Even a dream job will have its low points and ‘desert times’ – whether it is poor chemistry with the boss, a major boo-boo or a disappointment at work. Having a sense of purpose will help you stay the course.”

Ms Yeoh Chee Yan, former Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, shares how to be good to yourself and to others by knowing and prioritising what’s important.

3. Walking The Ground For Better Policies

“What I worked for comes down to one simple thing and that is when you see the sparkle in the eyes of the elderly whom you serve.”

Face-to-face interactions with citizens keep Ms Teoh Zsin Woon’s passion for the Public Service. After moving from the Ministry of Health to become Deputy Secretary (Transformation) at the Public Service Division, the energetic officer continued her volunteer work to help the elderly.

Leaders who Blaze a Trail

4. Putting First Responders First

“These varied contributions were a stretch on our manpower all round, but our staff saw the meaning of their work and the significance of their contributions to the national effort.”

COL (Dr) Shalini Arulanandam, the first female Chief Medical Officer at the Singapore Civil Defence Force, reflects on the vital role of paramedics – and shares what she’s doing to help them be even better in their work.

5. Women in Public Sector Engineering

In a traditionally male-dominated field, three successful female engineers take pride in their expertise and wish to inspire more young women to take on engineering roles.

“I have been lucky to have great mentors, so I see this mentorship as a form of paying it forward,” says Dr Tan Mei Hui, from Government Technology Agency’s Cyber Security Group. In her free time, she gives talks at girls’ schools about cybersecurity as a career option and provides one-to-one mentoring.

6. "I've Never Felt The Need To Get A Master's"

“I don’t really care what class of degree you have as long as you show me that you can be a good teacher.”

As then-Permanent Secretary of Education, Ms Chan Lai Fung tells Challenge why relevant skills and a positive work attitude can be more powerful than qualifications – advice that surely applies today and for the uncertain future.

Career Reflections

7. Luck Plays A Role In One’s Career, But Favours Those Who Dare

“I have not regretted making the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) my first and only job.”

URA’s Chief Planner Hwang Yu-Ning shares about daring to press on despite early rejections and how saying “yes” to every new posting has led to a fulfilling Public Service career.

8. Tips To Prevent Burning Out At Work

“Singapore public officers have a fearsome work ethic. But a laudable sense of duty often comes at a price – the unwillingness to cede control.”

Get a reality check and tips from Singapore’s first Design Ambassador Agnes Kwek on how to work smart while helping others in your team learn and grow.

(Read more about the transformation Agnes led at the Land Transport Authority using design thinking.)

9. Making An Impact At Work, Reframed

“The Public Service is a huge organisation; none of us ever work alone and any impact we hope to make is seldom achieved alone as well.”

Ms Lim Soo Hoon is Singapore’s first female Permanent Secretary. In a Letter to a Young Public Officer, she shares a question she asked herself at every new posting to help herself find the purpose and meaning of her work.

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Understand the People You Work For and With

10. "The Relationships Matter Just As Much As Getting The Job Done"

In A Cuppa interview as then-Deputy Secretary of Strategy Group, Prime Minister’s Office, Ms Tan Gee Keow shared that mutual trust is the key for whole-of-government collaboration to create solutions.

11. Redesigning A Top Design Award

“Talk to the users, the ones who would be most affected. Otherwise all your ideas will just exist in a vacuum, no matter how well-meaning or well-researched.”

In her journey of learning more deeply about design, Ms Genine Loo learnt the importance of understanding communities’ needs and perceptions.

12. Up Close With A Service Star: Ms Artini Hamzah, MSF

To better communicate with hearing-impaired probationers, social worker Artini Hamzah from the Ministry of Social and Family Development took pains to learn sign language.

“Though I may not be able to turn their lives around completely, I know that somehow, small or big, I’ve touched their lives and made them better people.”

A Passion for Life and Service Beyond Work

13. For The Love Of Volunteering

“The humans I’ve met, they’ve taught me compassion, empathy, patience and resilience.”

A hobbyist singer and a dedicated animal lover tell Challenge how their volunteering experiences shape their values of commitment and empathy.

14. Madam Chingay's Still Got It

“The word ‘retirement’ is not in my dictionary.”

The 75-year old veteran staff from the People Association takes us down a memory lane as she shares her learning experiences since the first Chingay parade in 1973.

15. Going The Distance: How To Stay The Course At Work

“In our work, a clearly articulated burning ambition does more to motivate and sustain change than a burning platform. Likewise in sports.”

Mountain climber and long-distance runner Sim Phei Sunn muses on the intertwining values between endurance sports and her career in the Public Service.

16. Taking Things Into Their Own Hands

A leader in Singapore’s Maker movement, Dr Kiruthika Ramanathan from the Science Centre Singapore believes there’s plenty to gain from having a “can-do” attitude, being hands-on and learning from mistakes while experimenting.

“The process of making leads to learning that sticks, as it involves failing and trying different ways to solve a problem.”

    Mar 3, 2021
    Kate Ling
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