Women stepping up in Singapore boardrooms

Office workers in the central business district.
Office workers in the central business district.PHOTO: ST FILE

They held 10.2% of board seats of 30 STI firms last year, up from 7.6% in 2014: Report

Singapore's top companies have led from the front in helping to remedy one of the blights on the local corporate scene - the under-representation of women on company boards.

A new report has found that across the 30 listed companies comprising the blue chip Straits Times Index (STI), 10.2 per cent of board seats were held by women last year, up from 7.6 per cent in 2014.

It was an even brighter picture for new appointments, with women accounting for 27 per cent, significantly higher than the overall 14 per cent, said the Diversity Action Committee (DAC) yesterday.

The DAC is the authority on statistics tackling women's representation on boards of Singapore Exchange (SGX)-listed companies.

Only nine of the 30 STI companies continue to have all-male boards, it noted.

The DAC also found that besides large firms, smaller companies also improved their gender diversity.

Overall, women held 9.5 per cent of directorships in all 758 SGX-listed companies last year, up from 8.8 per cent in 2014 and 8.3 in 2013.

DAC chairman Magnus Bocker said: "For the past two years, we have seen a significant improvement in the number of women directors on boards of SGX-listed companies, especially in large companies.

"This indicates that companies are responding to investor groups' and the DAC's call for greater gender diversity on boards, as part of a broader view of board diversity."

Even though listed firms saw an improvement in women's representation on boards, the Diversity Action Committee noted there were only minor changes across industries. For instance, women directors in consumer-oriented industries made up less than the market average of 9.5 per cent.

Large firms with a market capitalisation of more than $1 billion - 108 firms including those in the STI - had more women on their boards, at 9.6 per cent, up from 8.7 per cent a year ago.

The report also found that for those large firms, all-male boards made up 41 per cent last year, down from 54 per cent three years ago.

Last year, the total number of directorships fell by 63. The number of women directors rose 7 per cent to 30, while that of male directorships fell 2 per cent to 93.

A DBS Group spokesman said: "We are committed to board diversity, including gender diversity. Women make up over 20 per cent of our nine-member board. Our two women board members are Euleen Goh, a veteran banker, and Ow Foong Pheng, a leading civil servant."

DBS picked up the Diversity Award, which considers factors such as gender and ethnicity, at the Sias Investors' Choice Awards in 2014 and last year.

The Hong Leong Group also has several women on the boards of its listed firms, such as City Developments Limited and CDL Hospitality Trusts.

Mr Kwek Leng Beng, executive chairman of Hong Leong Group, said: "Women in the boardroom can provide a more diverse approach to business decisions. Their views and expertise at board level help to further develop the companies' strategies. The most recent appointment was Ms Caroline Kwong, who joined Hong Leong Asia's board last week."

Even though listed firms saw an improvement in women's representation on boards, the DAC noted there were only minor changes across industries. For instance, women directors in consumer-oriented industries made up less than the market average of 9.5 per cent.

The DAC warned: "Unless shareholders place priority on board diversity and engage boards on this issue, progress will continue to be slow."

However, it added that Singapore is working towards increasing women's representation on boards, and "SGX-listed company boards are gaining ground despite not having quotas or mandatory disclosure obligations".

Although there are no strict disclosure obligations on board gender diversity, more disclosure and showing targets have helped other financial markets improve board diversity greatly, the DAC said.

A Mapletree spokesman said having female board members is not a mere act of gender diversification. The boards of Mapletree Investments and its four listed real estate investment trusts each have at least one woman director.

He said: "Our board members are chosen based on merit and experience. Our female board members are no exception. We appreciate the spectrum of views that all our female directors bring."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2016, with the headline 'Women stepping up in S'pore boardrooms'. Print Edition | Subscribe