Still not enough women in boardrooms

Gender diversity can lift performance with fresh perspectives, cohesive teamwork

Singapore women continue to be under-represented in top management positions, even though they have made strides in education and the broader workforce.

They lag behind their regional counterparts - holding just 27 per cent of management posts in private firms here last year.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu lamented the figures yesterday at the launch of the Nominating Committee Guide and Diversity Pledge by the Singapore Institute of Directors (SID) - an event to celebrate the SID's commitment to enhancing diversity on corporate boards.

"If we look at large listed companies in Singapore, the percentage with all-male boards has decreased, going from 51.4 per cent in 2013 to 46.3 per cent last year," said Ms Fu.

"This an improvement, but the fact remains - women made up just 8.8 per cent of all board directors in Singapore Exchange-listed firms."

HARNESSING FULL POTENTIAL

Promoting diversity on boards - be it gender, age or ethnic diversity - is not about giving certain groups preferential treatment. It is about recognising the value of diverse perspectives in the boardroom, and harnessing the full potential of all the talent that companies have in their fold.

MS GRACE FU, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office

At the SID Directors' Conference last year, she cited several large listed companies without a single woman on their boards - Genting Singapore, Global Logistic Properties, Golden Agri-Resources, Olam International, StarHub and Wilmar.

"Since then, only one of these companies has added a female director to its board," she said, referring to StarHub. "I am keeping a close watch on their progress."

Firms with more gender-diverse boards tend to do better, she said. Women leaders enhance the performance of management teams.

A 2013 study by the Harvard Business Review found that 57 per cent of male directors agreed that women brought fresh perspectives and ideas to the boardroom. Another of its studies showed that women leaders could inspire and motivate others, and encourage collaboration and teamwork, Ms Fu said.

Greater gender diversity in leadership has been linked to better financial performance. A study by American academic Roy Adler found that, from 1980 to 2001, Fortune 500 firms that were the most active in promoting women to top management had profit margins 34 per cent above the industry median.

Companies should offer equal opportunities for leadership development to men and women with potential, Ms Fu said.

"Firms can put in place processes such as guided transfers between business functions to develop all-rounded leadership capabilities... Processes to nominate candidates for board positions should be transparent and merit-based."

Businesses can also implement family-friendly work practices that benefit both men and women, and take visible steps towards gender diversity. For example, Microsoft has developed training courses for its human resource teams on overcoming recruitment biases and being more inclusive in hiring practices.

The Government supports working parents with parental leave provisions, Ms Fu said. As part of the Jubilee package, it announced that Government-paid paternity leave will increase from one to two weeks.

"Promoting diversity on boards - be it gender, age or ethnic diversity - is not about giving certain groups preferential treatment," Ms Fu said.

"It is about recognising the value of diverse perspectives in the boardroom, and harnessing the full potential of all the talent that companies have in their fold," she said, noting this is key to sustainable and optimal leadership in an ever more competitive global environment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'Still not enough women in boardrooms'. Print Edition | Subscribe