Call to get more women on Singapore boards

Firms urged to improve gender diversity or risk hurting S'pore's standing as business hub

The typical board member in Singapore is a tertiary-educated man, over 50 and with fewer than five years under his belt as a director - a stark sign the push to get more women in such positions is flagging.

Many of these posts taken up by new male directors could have gone to women. And while female representation on boards has risen from 8 per cent in 2012 to 9.7 per cent as at end June this year, Singapore is lagging behind other places.

In Britain, female board representation has reached 21.9 per cent, 12.1 per cent in Hong Kong and 10.2 per cent in Malaysia, Singapore's Diversity Action Committee (DAC) noted yesterday in its latest report. The DAC was set up in 2014 to improve female board representation.

It said that the process should speed up as it could "risk undermining Singapore's reputation as a leading business hub with sound and exemplary governance".

It made five recommendations, including improving the Code of Corporate Governance for listed firms to disclose details, such as their diversity policy and objectives, and for firms to develop their executive pipeline to increase the pool of women for board roles.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, who was at the presentation of the report, agreed, saying: "Women bring with them different perspectives which can bring about more robust and dynamic governance in companies. These companies perform better, ultimately benefiting our economy as a whole."

The report said large firms and those listed on Catalist have lifted the number of female directors by more than 30 per cent from December 2012 to June 2016.

The report also found that the tenures for females directors tended to be shorter than for males: "This is even more the case for independent directors. Twenty-three per cent of male independent directors have been on the boards for more than 10 years, with the longest tenure at 45 years. In comparison, only 8 per cent of female independent directors have served more than 10 years, with the longest tenure at 21 years."

  • 21.9%  
    Female board representation in Britain.

  • 12.1%
    Female board representation in Hong Kong.

  • 9.7%
    Female board representation in Singapore.

Outgoing DAC chairman Magnus Bocker, who will be replaced by Singapore Exchange ( SGX) chief executive Loh Boon Chye, said recruiting the most qualified people into the boardroom, especially women, will support sustained growth for a company in the long run.

The report also released the top 100 listed firms by market capitalisation and the number of women they had on the board as at the end of June.

More than 35 firms, including agri-business group Wilmar International, logistics firm CWT, insurer Great Eastern Holdings, and several real estate firms such as UOL Group had no women on the board.

Exceptions included Mapletree Commercial Trust, which had four women on the board, and Singtel, Singapore Press Holdings and the SGX, with three each.

Singtel chairman Simon Israel said in the report that the lack of gender diversity is shocking and "an embarrassment".

Parliament Speaker Halimah Yacob, who is the adviser to the DAC, said the benefits of having more women directors are well known "and yet we have not fully harnessed this potential".

She added that it is time for companies here to think ahead and "raise board diversity to where global companies want to be".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2016, with the headline 'Call to get more women on S'pore boards'. Print Edition | Subscribe