More companies may be offering flexible work arrangements, but it will take a mindset change from employers to ensure it becomes a widely accepted practice.
Achieving that could go a long way in encouraging working women to have babies, said National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong.
Despite figures from the Manpower Ministry which show that the number of companies with flexi-work schemes is creeping up, Ms Cham believes the option is not attractive to many mothers because much depends on how supervisors down the line treat employees on flexi-time.
'The chances of a person on flexi-time arrangement getting a better performance rating is slim. As long as you can deliver, it should not matter if you are physically not here. But we have not reached the kind of maturity where all employers have this mindset. Far from it,' she said.
As long as women feel they will be penalised if they take time out from their jobs to care for their children, there will be those who will choose not to have babies because career progression matters to them.
The NTUC is working with employers to see how it can change the attitudes of employers and supervisors who have direct contact with employees.
'CEOs tell you 'we are certainly pro-family', but they don't know what's happening on the ground,' Ms Cham said.
What matters is the attitude of employers, rather than companies paying lip service to adopting practices such as part-time, time off or job sharing, she said.
With various unsuccessful measures introduced over the years to encourage couples to have babies, she felt it is now time for workplaces to help develop an acceptable norm for working mothers.
But it can be hard to quantify work-life balance or pro-family practices.
'Work-life balance is not just giving you part-time work,' said Ms Cham. 'It doesn't stop at giving employees time off. It is about the kind of support you can get from your employers and colleagues.
'Women need the peace of mind that they are not being victimised and marginalised just because they have a baby or have to spend more time at home. We have a long, long way to go. It is not something that money can solve.'
The reality is that even if working mums deliver results or work full-time hours at a time suitable for them, many supervisors remain concerned that they are not putting in 'face-time' in the office.
'Ideally, employers should not cut the pay if employees can make it up over the weekend or can deliver the results,' Ms Cham said, adding that many people can still be working even after they have left the office.
'When I'm on SMS and e-mail after work, I'm still working for you. You are not including that as part of my job, so why are you cutting my pay?'
It might take one employer to convince another that happy workers will give you more productive workers, said Ms Cham.
If more employers are open to having a flexible working arrangement for mothers, it could be a way of ensuring that the women remain in the workforce even after having babies.
The common issue that many stay-at-home mothers now face is the difficulty of returning to the workforce when their children are grown up, said Ms Cham.
So what could work is helping women manage their career, with flexible work practices and supportive bosses so they need not leave their jobs just to spend time with the children.
This, however, will take a huge mindset change from employers.
And as Ms Cham acknowledged: 'Our challenge is that we can't legislate mindsets.'
NTUC ASSISTANT SECRETARY-GENERAL CHAM HUI FONG ON...
Turning Singapore into a mini Denmark
'We want to see how we can transform into a mini Denmark because the country has a high employment rate for women, high fertility rate and high GDP growth. So they don't have to compromise one against another. In our case, if you expect the women to come back to work, then something has got to give somewhere. So a lot of them will choose not to have babies or choose not to get married even.'
Extending maternity leave
'Some groups of employees say it would be good to give us one year off so we can spend quality time with our children. But another group tells us they are worried because they are not the 'well-sought-after' kind, and it doesn't mean that when they leave, they have a choice to come back. The employer may give them a job but it may be something else.'
Why some do not have kids
'Some say it's a personal choice; a lot of them say it's the career. They need to build up their careers otherwise how can they take care of the children? Many others with one kid want to stop at one. They cannot cope with the stress or competition they face at work, or cannot get the type of support they hope to get from their employers and colleagues.'
HIGHLIGHTS OF PROPOSALS
Encouraging marriage and parenthood
Encouraging pro-family workplaces