Legislation possible in some areas of the boardroom

Mr Sulthan Niaz made valid points on women in boardrooms ("No need for law on number of women in boardrooms"; Monday).

We constantly have people lamenting the "plight" of women in Singapore, as if they have been bypassed and denied opportunities.

The fact that they achieved the highest percentage of chief executive positions in Asia, and the third highest globally, according to the Credit Suisse Gender 3000 report, proves that this is a misconception.

Using the percentage of board representation as a measure of Singaporean women's success is myopic.

In the larger scheme of things, women are very successful.

As Mr Niaz rightly articulated, some women may shun board representation because of other priorities.

The call for legislation on the number of women in boardrooms is retrogressive.

It compromises the attributes of democracy, meritocracy and free choice, which define Singaporean society and set us apart from many other societies.

Not all issues lend themselves to legislation.

Having said that, there are certain areas in boardroom representation where legislation is possible.

First, limit the number of boards an individual can sit on, as it is common for some individuals to sit on multiple boards, some as many as 10 or more.

This begs the questions: Are these all the talents we have? Are they overloaded to the extent that their effectiveness in discharging their roles is affected?

This smacks of the old boys' club syndrome, which should be eradicated.

Capping the number of boards an individual can sit on will ensure effectiveness and will free up opportunities for others.

Second, allow only those who do not hold full-time jobs to be members of boards.

Currently, many board members are holding full-time jobs.

By being board members of other companies, are they not using their companies' time? Shouldn't the time be used solely to serve their employers?

In the most drastic sense, this is tantamount to moonlighting.

There may be merit in confining board membership to retirees, who would have, by then, accumulated a wealth of industry knowledge and technical competence, and who may wish to remain connected and engaged with the corporate world, on their own time.

Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2016, with the headline 'Legislation possible in some areas of the boardroom'. Print Edition | Subscribe