New council set up to get more women onto boards of organisations

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.
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

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

While a "good achievement", this is hardly enough, President Halimah Yacob said at the Istana on Wednesday (Jan 16), 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 Singapore Exchange, and Mrs Mildred Tan, chairman of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre.

It will consist of 20 members, with nine men and 11 women, and take over from the existing Diversity Action Committee (DAC), which was formed in 2014 and focused on Singapore Exchange-listed companies.

The new council 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 adviser to the DAC, said: "This is a good achievement. But of course, we all acknowledge that 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.


The Council for Board Diversity will be co-chaired by Mr Loh Boon Chye, chief executive officer of Singapore Exchange, and Mrs Mildred Tan, chairman of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre. 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.

Madam Halimah added: "The benefits of having more diverse boards are well known and accepted. 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."

 
 
 

She also noted that having women on boards is only one aspect of board diversity and it is an important and visible form of diversity widely tracked by institutional investors, governments and interest groups.

"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," she said.

The new council will focus on efforts to raise awareness of the importance of board diversity and work with stakeholders and partners to develop the pipeline of board-ready women, and work with the Government on policies and programmes.

Madam Halimah said that these efforts are in line with the global focus of investors that has expanded from a company's financial bottom line to include sustainability practices and environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting.

"In the area of governance, having qualified women directors is a measure of the quality of governance and the corporate culture."

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 organisations well, as forward-looking and responsible stewards for sustainable development in the long run," she said.