More women directors in Singapore companies but number still lags global average: MSCI

Overall, the report showed a pronounced increase in the percentage of women on boards globally - from 17.9 per cent in 2018 to 20 per cent in 2019, said MSCI.
Overall, the report showed a pronounced increase in the percentage of women on boards globally - from 17.9 per cent in 2018 to 20 per cent in 2019, said MSCI.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - An annual report by the provider of a widely-followed stock market index found that Singapore-listed companies have more female directors but are still behind the global average.

Women account for 18.4 per cent of board members in the 26 Singapore-listed constituents of the MSCI All Country World Index (ACWI) in 2019, a strong increase from from 13.7 per cent last year but still short of the 20 per cent average for all the companies on the index.

MSCI reviewed the board and executive management structure of 2,765 companies that constitute the MSCI ACWI Index for its "Women on Boards" research report. The 26 Singapore-listed firms included in the index included large-caps such as DBS, OCBC, United Overseas Bank, Singtel, and Capitaland, amongst others.

MSCI's study also found 23.1 per cent of Singapore companies on its MSCI ACWI index had three or more women on their boards, below the average of 36.2 per cent.

But when it came to top management positions, the Republic fared better - 7.7 per cent of the Singapore companies had a woman chief executive officer (CEO), more than the average of 4.3 per cent, and 30.8 per cent of them had a female chief financial officer (CFO) as against the index average of 12.5 per cent.

Overall, the report showed a pronounced increase in the percentage of women on boards globally - from 17.9 per cent in 2018 to 20 per cent in 2019, said MSCI.

However, due to the small pool of female board directors, more women (22 per cent) than men (12 per cent) were "overboarded", meaning they served on three or more boards globally.

MSCI's findings are in line with earlier reports showing that while Singapore has improved on its gender balance, it still has far to go to achieve the 20 per cent target set by the Government for women directors.

The most recent figures released by the Council for Board Diversity in September found that women make up just 15.7 per cent of board members in the top 100 primary-listed companies by market capitalisation on the Singapore Exchange. As of June 2019, they occupied 134 of the 854 directorships on offer in those companies.

 
 

The marginal increase of 0.5 percentage point in the first half of 2019 also raised doubt on whether the council's target of hitting 20 per cent, or about 171 directorships, by end-2020 could be achieved.

MSCI’s report also noted that the lack of qualified women to fill director positions has been one of the most common misconceptions used to explain, if not justify, the lack of gender diversity among executives and directors.

Its study found that more women (22 per cent) than men (12 per cent) were “overboarded”, meaning they served on three or more boards globally.

However, MSCI said its review of the available data suggests that most female directors (78 per cent) are not considered overboarded and serve on one to three boards. 

While it is true that a larger portion of women serve on three or more boards than do men, this may imply that despite the broad availability of educated and experienced female professionals, some companies have continued to rely on a limited pool of candidates, said MSCI.

On another misconception to do with gender expertise, MSCI said it found no notable differences in financial expertise between male and female directors of companies in developed market countries. In emerging markets, female directors and executives were actually more likely than their male counterparts to have financial expertise, it said.

In fact, 47 per cent of female directors and executives serving companies in emerging markets had financial expertise, compared with 39 per cent of male directors and executives among the same peer group. The portion of executives and directors with financial expertise was the same, at 42 per cent, for men and women in companies in developed markets.

MSCI based its findings on data available for 29,015 individual directors and top executives at companies that were constituents of the MSCI ACWI Index as of Oct 31.