Singapore's statutory boards, companies and Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs) made some progress in appointing more women to their boards last year, according to the Council for Board Diversity (CBD).
In an update issued yesterday on women's participation on boards, the CBD said statutory boards showed the most improvement, followed by companies and then IPCs.
But the increases still fell short of the council's short-term targets set in 2019, when it was established by the Ministry of Social and Family Development to promote a sustained increase of women on boards in Singapore.
In 2019, the council's goal for statutory boards and IPCs was set at 30 per cent "as soon as possible". For companies, the goal was set at 20 per cent by the end of last year, 25 per cent by 2025, and 30 per cent by 2030.
Statutory boards showed the most improvement, with an increase of 2.4 percentage points as at December last year, compared with end-2019. The rate of women on boards for statutory boards stands at 27.5 per cent.
The 100 largest primary-listed companies by market capitalisation on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) saw an improvement of 1.4 percentage points, achieving a rate of 17.6 per cent in December.
Meanwhile, the top 100 IPCs by donation receipts improved by 1 percentage point, achieving a rate of 28.8 per cent by the end of last year.
About a third of statutory boards, almost half of the top 100 IPCs and 16 of the top 100 companies now have 30 per cent or more female board members. The CBD's long-term ambition is for all boards to achieve an equal proportion of men and women.
The council said it had received feedback indicating that some companies did not see board diversity as a priority amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the slow pace of appointing women as directors appeared to be a local issue, the CBD noted, as large companies in countries like Australia and New Zealand quickened their pace of appointing women last year.
SGX chief executive Loh Boon Chye, who co-chairs the CBD, said: "Board diversity, a recognised hallmark of progressive boards even before Covid-19, is more critical now than before.
"Post-pandemic recovery offers opportunities for innovation and business repositioning. Having directors with a wider mix of gender, age, skills, experiences and backgrounds allows boards the broad-based choices as they assess what is best for the future."
The CBD, in its statement, urged companies to give more women a chance to become first-time directors, as a lack of prior board experience "should not be a stumbling block to appointing well-qualified candidates with business or specialist experience".
More candidates without prior board experience are being appointed as directors than before, with the proportion of first-time directors rising from about a third in 2016 to about half last year. However, the CBD noted that about 70 per cent of the first-time directors appointed last year were men.
Tote Board chairman Mildred Tan, who co-chairs the CBD with Mr Loh, said the council hopes more organisations will seek out talented women and give them the opportunity to take their first step onto a board. "When all organisations keep an open mind and appoint such qualified women onto the boards, it expands the pool of candidates for the entire country."