New council aims to get more women on boards

President Halimah Yacob meeting members of the Council for Board Diversity at the Istana yesterday. Madam Halimah is patron of the council, which is co-chaired by National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre chairman Mildred Tan (second from right) and
President Halimah Yacob meeting members of the Council for Board Diversity at the Istana yesterday. Madam Halimah is patron of the council, which is co-chaired by National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre chairman Mildred Tan (second from right) and Singapore Exchange CEO Loh Boon Chye.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

It will have expanded scope to look at boards of organisations in public and people sectors

In the last four years, the proportion of women on the boards of Singapore's top 100 listed companies doubled to 15 per cent.

While a "good achievement", it is hardly enough, President Halimah Yacob said at the Istana yesterday, as she announced the formation of a new council to get more women on the boards of organisations.

Madam Halimah will be the patron of the Council for Board Diversity, which will be co-chaired by Mr Loh Boon Chye, chief executive officer of the Singapore Exchange (SGX), and Mrs Mildred Tan, chairman of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC).

The council consisting of 20 members - nine men and 11 women - used to be known as the Diversity Action Committee (DAC), which was formed in 2014 and focused on SGX-listed companies.

It will have an expanded scope to look into female representation on the boards of organisations in the public sector and people sector, which includes non-governmental organisations, voluntary welfare organisations and charities.

As of last month, the representation of women on boards in the top 100 primary-listed SGX companies had increased to 15.2 per cent from 7.5 per cent before the DAC started.

Madam Halimah, who was an adviser to the DAC, said: "This is a good achievement. But, of course, we all acknowledge it is still a challenge for us to reach the first-tier target of 20 per cent by the end of next year, and further effort is necessary.


President Halimah Yacob delivering a speech at the Istana on Jan 16, 2019, as she announced the formation of a new council to get more women on the boards of organisations. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

"It is a natural progression for statutory boards and charities to be included so that organisations in the people and public sectors can also harness the benefits of a leadership with diversity of thought."

In 2017, the DAC set targets of increasing female participation on boards of listed companies to 20 per cent by 2020, 25 per cent by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030.

  • How firms fare

  • The companies with the most female participation on their boards, according to the Diversity Action Committee report on SGX-listed companies:

    • Singapore Post: 44 per cent as at end-2018

    • Parkway Life Reit: 38 per cent

    • Singapore Telecommunications: 36 per cent

    • Mapletree Commercial Trust, Hutchison Port Holdings Trust, Singapore Press Holdings, Best World International, Keppel Reit, OUE Commercial Real Estate Investment Trust: 33 per cent

    Companies with no women on their boards as of end-2018: AIMS AMP Capital Industrial Reit, CapitaLand Mall Trust, Citic Envirotech, ESR-Reit, Frasers Centrepoint Trust, Frasers Commercial Trust, Frasers Hospitality Trust, Frasers Logistics & Industrial Trust, Golden Agri-Resources, Haw Par Corporation, Hong Leong Finance, Hotel Properties, OUE Hospitality Trust, OUE, Oxley Holdings, Perennial Real Estate Holdings, Riverstone Holdings, Starhill Global Real Estate Investment Trust, United Engineers, United Industrial Corporation, UOB Kay Hian Holdings, UOL Group, Wilmar International, Yangzijiang Shipbuilding (Holdings).

    Singapore Airlines announced the appointment of a female director with effect from Jan 1 this year.

    Sue-Ann Tan

Madam Halimah added: "The diversity allows organisations to have access to fresh perspectives for better decision making and risk management. This has been shown to lead to more robust corporate governance and improved stewardship of organisations.

"With an increased demand for qualified executives fairly early on in our economic development, Singapore has had a reasonably high proportion of women executives for some time now. Many women in Singapore already contribute at senior leadership positions in their organisations. But not many serve on boards, and this has to change."

The new council will focus on raising awareness of the importance of board diversity, developing the pipeline of board-ready women, and working with the Government on policies and programmes.

Among 16 countries studied in a DAC report, Singapore ranked 11th in terms of the representation of women on boards, below countries such as Britain and Malaysia.

Madam Halimah encouraged organisations, especially those that have not had female directors, to seriously consider whether they have valid reasons for resisting diversity and its benefits.

"Those that turn thought into action sooner rather than later, by casting the net wide to look for the best and most diverse talents and experience to serve on their boards, will position their orga-nisations well, as forward-looking and responsible stewards for sustainable development in the long run," she said.

Representatives in the people and public sectors said the move to have more women on organisations' boards is a good one.

According to the new council, the representation of women on boards in statutory boards is 23 per cent.

 
 
 

The figure is 31 per cent when it comes to Institutions of a Public Character, taking into account around 600 organisations.

Mr Gerard Ee, chairman of the Charity Council, said: "This message reminds people to have diversity, although it is not about numbers, but what the individual can bring to the organisation."

Mrs Tan of NVPC added: "The numbers for the people sector are quite good, but it is not even across organisations.

"The mindset also has to shift from wanting to meet numbers to actual quality. It is not about tokenism, but about the good that women can bring to the table."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2019, with the headline 'New council aims to get more women on boards'. Print Edition | Subscribe