‘Not enough’ women in Sin­ga­pore’s board­rooms


Sin­ga­pore women con­tinue to be un­der-rep­re­sented in top man­age­ment po­si­tions, even though they have made strides in ed­u­ca­tion and the broader work­force.

They lag be­hind their re­gional coun­ter­parts — hold­ing just 27 per­cent of man­age­ment posts in pri­vate firms here last year.

Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice Min­is­ter Grace Fu lamented the fig­ures Fri­day at the launch of the Nom­i­nat­ing Com­mit­tee Guide and Di­ver­sity Pledge by the Sin­ga­pore In­sti­tute of Di­rec­tors (SID) — an event to celebrate the SID’s com­mit­ment to en­hanc­ing di­ver­sity on cor­po­rate boards.

“If we look at large listed com­pa­nies in Sin­ga­pore, the per­cent­age with all-male boards has de­creased, go­ing from 51.4 per­cent in 2013 to 46.3 per­cent last year,” said Fu.

“This an im­prove­ment, but the fact re­mains — women made up just 8.8 per­cent of all board di­rec­tors in Sin­ga­pore Ex­change-listed firms.”

At the SID Di­rec­tors’ Con­fer­ence last year, she cited sev­eral large listed com­pa­nies with­out a sin­gle woman on their boards — Gent­ing Sin­ga­pore, Global Lo­gis­tic Prop­er­ties, Golden Agri-Re­sources, Olam In­ter­na­tional, StarHub and Wil­mar.

“Since then, only one of these com­pa­nies has added a fe­male di­rec­tor to its board,” she said, re­fer­ring to StarHub. “I am keep­ing a close watch on their progress.”

Firms with more gen­der-di­verse boards tend to do bet­ter, she said. Women lead­ers en­hance the per­for­mance of man­age­ment teams.

A 2013 study by the Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view found that 57 per­cent of male di­rec­tors agreed that women brought fresh per­spec­tives and ideas to the board­room. Another of its stud­ies showed that women lead­ers could in­spire and mo­ti­vate oth­ers, and en­cour­age col­lab­o­ra­tion and team­work, Fu said.

Greater gen­der di­ver­sity in lead­er­ship has been linked to bet­ter fi­nan­cial per­for­mance. A study by Amer­i­can aca­demic Roy Adler found that, from 1980 to 2001, For­tune 500 firms that were the most ac­tive in pro­mot­ing women to top man­age­ment had profit mar­gins 34 per­cent above the in­dus­try me­dian.

Com­pa­nies should of­fer equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment to men and women with po­ten­tial, Fu said.

“Firms can put in place pro­cesses such as guided trans­fers be­tween busi­ness func­tions to de­velop all­rounded lead­er­ship ca­pa­bil­i­ties. ... Pro­cesses to nom­i­nate can­di­dates for board po­si­tions should be trans­par­ent and merit-based.”

Busi­nesses can also im­ple­ment fam­ily-friendly work prac­tices that ben­e­fit both men and women, and take vis­i­ble steps to­wards gen­der di­ver­sity.

For ex­am­ple, Mi­crosoft has de­vel­oped train­ing cour­ses for its hu­man re­source teams on over­com­ing re­cruit­ment bi­ases and be­ing more in­clu­sive in hir­ing prac­tices.

The gov­ern­ment sup­ports work­ing par­ents with parental leave pro­vi­sions, Fu said. As part of the Ju­bilee pack­age, it an­nounced that gov­ern­ment-paid pa­ter­nity leave will in­crease from one to two weeks.

“Pro­mot­ing di­ver­sity on boards — be it gen­der, age or eth­nic di­ver­sity — is not about giv­ing cer­tain groups pref­er­en­tial treat­ment,” Fu said.

“It is about rec­og­niz­ing the value of di­verse per­spec­tives in the board­room, and har­ness­ing the full po­ten­tial of all the tal­ent that com­pa­nies have in their fold,” she said, not­ing this is key to sus­tain­able and op­ti­mal lead­er­ship in an ever more com­pet­i­tive global en­vi­ron­ment.

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