Women's groups here have set a bold goal to redress a lack of gender diversity: Double the proportion of women on boards by 2020.
The PAP Women's Wing and BoardAgender - an initiative of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations - have made the recommendation to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).
"We advocate that a 20-20 target - at least 20 per cent female directors on boards by 2020 - be adopted by listed companies and statutory boards," said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu yesterday.
That would be more than double the 9.7 per cent as at last June, which was a slight improvement on the 9.1 per cent as at June 2015.
Ms Fu, also the chair of the PAP Women's Wing, said that the two groups are also calling on the MAS to make the "comply or explain" disclosure policy on board diversity a mandatory one. This requires companies that do not meet the guidelines to explain their deviations.
Ms Fu was speaking at the launch of the final set of Corporate Governance Guide series for boards and board of committees here, organised by the Singapore Institute of Directors (SID).
Two and a half years in the making, the six guidebooks set out leading practices and regulatory requirements for boards and all major committees.
Although the number of women on local boards here has improved, Ms Fu lamented that it pales in comparison to women's representation in the workforce and in senior management ranks.
At the SID Directors' Conference in 2014, she had named several large listed companies that did not have a single woman on their boards.
"How are we faring now? StarHub has one woman on its board. Olam International now has two. The other companies - Genting Singapore, Global Logistic Properties, Golden Agri-Resources and Wilmar International - still have none," she noted yesterday.
Having gender-diverse business leadership, including on boards, would provide better guidance on more gender-equal policies, and encourage more women to take on key roles.
"That said, this is not about giving preferential treatment to a specific gender - merit still comes first."
Ms Fu also suggested that boards cast the net wider when they search for candidates, and to make a conscious effort to develop staff to enlarge the pool of women for board roles in the future.
SID chairman Willie Cheng told The Straits Times that the 20-20 target will be achievable with collective effort from all stakeholders .
"A fundamental issue is the process by which new board members are being recruited. They tend to reach out to their personal network. We need to get past this old boys' network approach," he noted.
Ms Fu's remarks provided fodder for vibrant discussion in a panel session. Issues raised included whether there is an ample supply of female executives to take on board roles, and the mindset needed to spur greater gender diversity.
"It must be driven by a deep-seated desire to achieve diversity. It is not tokenism or just ticking the box," said panellist Max Loh, who is a managing partner for Singapore and Asean at EY.
Participants noted the need for men to take on an equal share of responsibilities at home and promote a supportive work environment.
"You also need an organisational structure where the chief executives, vice-presidents and the male managers support the idea of women getting ahead," said Ms Claire Chiang, co-founder of Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts.
In a statement, the PAP Women's Wing and BoardAgender also called on the Government to support the professional development of women for board directorship as part of the SkillsFuture programme.