Companies here should step up their efforts to appoint more women directors to reap the business benefits, said Madam Halimah Yacob yesterday.
Madam Halimah, who will be renominated as Speaker of Parliament when Parliament convenes in January, was speaking in her capacity as adviser to the Diversity Action Committee (DAC), set up last year to tackle Singapore's woefully low proportion of women in roles like company directorships.
She noted that the percentage of women directors in Singapore has risen very slowly and at this rate, "it'll take too long for Singapore companies to reap the benefits of women's participation at the top decision-making levels". She was speaking at a half-day conference organised by DAC, held at SGX Centre.
Madam Halimah urged companies to take a leaf from the Government's playbook, where the number of elected women MPs had increased from just three in 2001 to more than 20 today.
The Government made special efforts to identify and bring capable women into politics, to have diverse perspectives on issues ranging from the economy, education and social development to national development and security, she said in the opening address.
She encouraged companies to take action "sooner than later" to look for the best and most diverse talent to serve on their boards.
"This will position your companies as forward-looking and responsible stewards for sustainable development of the company in the long run," she said.
Madam Halimah made special mention of Singtel, Singapore Press Holdings and HL Global Enterprises. They each have three women independent directors on their boards.
Another 15 companies in Singapore have two women independent directors each.
"I wish I could name more of such companies next year. I applaud these companies for making the efforts to create gender-diverse boards," she said.
DAC invited about 100 women identified as suitable to serve as company directors to the conference to learn more about the job - and to network.
DAC chairman Magnus Böcker announced yesterday that women's representation on the boards of companies listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) has increased to 9.1 cent as of end-June, a slight lift from the 8.8 per cent last year.
New women appointments made up 12.7 per cent of the total new appointments during the six months ended June 30.
The proportion of new women directors at companies with market values exceeding $1 billion is even larger, at 24 per cent, up from 15.6 per cent last year.
"Bringing the best talents, fresh and diverse perspectives to the boardroom is no longer an option but a conscious effort made by far-sighted companies," said Mr Böcker.
"DAC hopes that all SGX-listed companies, large and small, will take positive steps to rebalance their board capabilities."