More women should break glass ceiling, says Chuan-Jin

Having women in corporate leadership makes good sense for businesses, economy

More women should aspire to break the glass ceiling, as the Government nudges businesses and charities to have more female representation on their boards, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday.

Encouraging more women to take on corporate leadership roles, Mr Tan told the House this push was not so much about women's rights, but a recognition that women bring diverse skill sets, experiences and perspectives.

"Having women in corporate leadership makes good sense for businesses and the economy," he said.

He was speaking near the end of a two-day debate on a motion to better support Singaporean women and their aspirations, during which 18 MPs and five ministers spoke.

Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC), Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) and Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) were among the MPs who sought better representation of women in boardrooms.

Mr Tan noted that Singapore lags behind other developed countries in terms of female representation in leadership roles - "something that Singapore corporates should not ignore any more", especially when shareholders and institutional investors increasingly view women on boards as being important for the effectiveness of these boards.

He cheered the newly set target by the Diversity Action Committee, which his ministry set up in 2014 to speed things up on this front.

The aim is for women to hold at least 20 per cent of board seats on Singapore Exchange-listed companies by 2020, 25 per cent of seats by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030. Currently, women hold 9.9 per cent of directorships.

The target is to signify that "getting women on boards is a journey, and not a destination", he said. "I want to see more women breaking glass ceilings in the next few years."

He said his ministry and the National Council of Social Service would also look into improving female representation on the boards of charities. While women are better represented in such groups - they make up 31 per cent of board seats - as compared with businesses, about 13 per cent of the charities still have no female representation.

"Women leaders in the non-profit sector have shown that a combination of heart and mind can go a long way in building up our social capital, and help us to become a caring society," he said. "I believe we can improve on this figure."

He also outlined policies in place to help both men and women, such as increased childcare spaces and measures to help single mothers.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) and Dr Intan Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) were among MPs who spoke on the need for society to embrace a cultural shift and change mindsets, especially when it comes to sharing caregiving responsibilities.

Mr Tan agreed, saying parents have a role in raising their children with the right mindset. "We can either help them move with the times and evolve more appropriate interpretations, or we can unnecessarily confine and restrict their understanding of the roles and duties of mothers and fathers, and of husbands and wives," he said.

SEE BUSINESS: Targets set to lift number of women on boards

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2017, with the headline 'More women should break glass ceiling, says Chuan-Jin'. Subscribe