More women on boards but further progress needed, says council

It found that the largest 100 primary-listed companies on the Singapore Exchange had achieved 16.2 per cent of female board participation as at Dec 31, 2019. PHOTO: ST FILE

There are more women on the boards of the largest listed companies here now than in 2018. But there is still plenty of room for improvement, as some companies still have few or no female directors, the Council for Board Diversity said yesterday.

It found that the 100 largest primary-listed companies on the Singapore Exchange had achieved 16.2 per cent of female board participation as at Dec 31 last year - a slight improvement on the 15.2 per cent recorded at the end of 2018.

There were also fewer all-male boards, with only 19 companies last year that had no female directors, down from 50 in 2013.

Last year, 39 companies each had one woman on their boards, and 42 companies had two or more.

Most sectors also saw improvements in female participation. Companies in telecommunications services had the highest percentage of women on their boards, at 31 per cent, followed by basic materials and technology businesses.

Statutory boards have also shown improvement, from 23.3 per cent participation of women on their boards in 2018 to 25.1 per cent last year.

But more needs to be done, said the council, which was set up by the Ministry of Social and Family Development last year.

It said in a statement: "Board gender diversity in Singapore needs to improve in order for Singapore to continue as a leading business and financial centre with exemplary governance levels.

"If all top 100 listed company boards without women and those with one woman on board move towards having at least two woman directors, the top 100 listed companies as a whole would reach 25 per cent women on boards, based on an average board size of 8.5.

"This would bring Singapore closer to the levels seen in international markets and unequivocally show active diversity and a progressive mindset for these companies."

The council said companies should have the goal of at least two to three women on their boards as a start. Businesses and organisations could also ensure that their nominating committees include female directors.

Those in search of female board candidates could reach out to executive headhunting firms, which can conduct international searches, the council added.

Mrs Mildred Tan, co-chairman of the council and chairman of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, said that the council "remains committed to working with organisations to improve diversity on their boards, especially in relation to gender".

Ms Euleen Goh, chairman of caterer Sats, said that all forms of board diversity, including gender diversity, are an important business imperative.

"For Sats, we saw that the variety and range of experiences, skill sets and insightful understanding of markets and customer segments have been critical components to board contributions to our business operations and strategy," she said.

Mr Lim Jit Poh, chairman of ComfortDelGro, SBS Transit and Vicom, said: "Increased diversity, be it in the form of gender, age, skills, experience or vocation, all serves to add dimension to the board.

"Women are able to bring to the table a different perspective as compared to their male counterparts.

"In Singapore, where the spirit of tripartism has worked successfully to shape the country's success, having a diversified board with people from the labour movement and (with) governmental experience ensures that we are never really distanced from key country and business issues."

Mr Ooi Sang Kuang, chairman of OCBC Bank, said: "We have recently added a director to our board who contributes both information technology insights as well as a woman's perspective.

"This adds to the breadth of expertise contributed by our current female director in the area of legal and corporate governance, which has been greatly beneficial."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2020, with the headline More women on boards but further progress needed, says council. Subscribe