More women needed on Singapore boards, says minister

In a recent speech, a government minister has lamented the gender situation amongst Singaporean executives and has called for a greater push towards workplace equality

With a mere 27% of management posts in Singapore firms held by women, the country’s firms are lagging behind their regional counterparts.
This remark was made by Grace Fu, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, in a speech at the launch of the Nominating Committee Guide and Diversity Pledge by the Singapore Institute of Directors (SID) on Saturday (29 August).
At the event, the SID pledged their commitment to improving diversity in corporate boards.
“If we look at large listed companies in Singapore, the percentage with all-male boards has decreased, going from 51.4 per cent in 2013 to 46.3 per cent last year,” said Fu.
"This is an improvement, but the fact remains - women made up just 8.8 per cent of all board directors in Singapore Exchange-listed firms."
While speaking at the SID Directors’ Conference in September 2014, Fu gave examples of large corporations without a single female board member. These included 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," Fu said in a reference to StarHub. "I am keeping a close watch on their progress,” she added.
She highlighted that firms with gender-diverse boards tend to do better. This has been covered by HRD Singapore previously with research from the US saying that female board members were more likely to seek advice before making crucial business decisions. This can then lower costs with regards to acquisitions and other matters.
In her speech, Fu mentioned a 2015 study by the Harvard Business Review which found women changed how boards operate, often for the better. As well as bringing a different set of perspectives, female board members were “more likely than their male counterparts to probe deeply into the issues at hand,” the study wrote. This brought about a better balance between risk-welcoming and risk aversion behaviour.
Fu called for more Singaporean firms to offer equal opportunities for leadership development to both men and women.
“Firms can put in place processes such as guided transfers between business functions to develop all-rounded leadership capabilities,” she said. “Processes to nominate candidates for board positions should be transparent and merit-based.”
She added that promoting diversity was not about giving certain groups preferential treatment. Instead, it was about “recognising the value of diverse perspectives in the boardroom and harnessing the full potential of all the talent that companies have in their fold”.
Related stories:
Women on corporate boards more likely to seek advice
Singapore boards falling behind on gender equity
Why Singapore firms are increasingly hiring working mothers

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