Saturday 29 March 2014

Only 8.3% women on listed firm boards

57% of boards are all male, says latest poll of 300 firms in S'pore
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2014

WOMEN are still woefully under-represented on the boards of Singapore listed companies, according to findings by a task force set up to address the issue.

As of April last year, only 8.3 per cent of listed company directorships were held by women, a survey by the recently formed Diversity Task Force found.

This was far fewer than in some other advanced economies such as Australia at 17.3 per cent, and Britain at 19 per cent.

It was also fewer than in Asian economies such as Malaysia at 8.7 per cent, China at 9 per cent and Hong Kong at 9.4 per cent.

Other studies in recent years had also found female representation rates in Singapore languishing at around the current level.

The latest survey, which polled 300 Singapore listed companies, also found that 57 per cent of boards here were all male.

The Diversity Task Force was set up in 2012 in response to concerns about female under-representation in top corporate positions. It was initiated by Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob when she was minister of state for the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

The task force, comprising private sector and women's groups members, is expected to release a report and recommendations for businesses and the Government by the end of next month.

Mrs Mildred Tan, chairman of the task force, said companies can benefit from having a more diverse board. "With the manpower shortage and an ageing population, tapping the under-utilised pool of talented women in Singapore could give companies a competitive edge," said Mrs Tan, who is also managing director of Ernst & Young Advisory.

Making board gender diversity a business imperative will also help to build shareholder confidence, she added.

Without regulatory intervention, the task force estimates that the percentage of women directors will grow to a mere 12 per cent in 2020 and 17 per cent in 2030, it said yesterday.

The survey findings showed companies are not yet convinced of the benefits of a diverse board, and that few have taken measures to tip the gender imbalance.

Only a third of companies polled agreed that gender diversity at board level is important, and a mere 4 per cent said shortlisted candidates for the board have to include at least one woman.

Factors contributing to the lack of board gender diversity include a perceived lack of qualified female candidates, with 43 per cent of firms polled citing that as a stumbling block to appointing more female board members.

Firms also rely excessively on personal networks to recruit directors - 89 per cent of companies said they have used this method, with 42 per cent recruiting only from their personal networks.

"The reality is that boards recruit based on their network of acquaintances, and many board members tend to move in circles that don't include professional women," said Mr Adrian Chan, vice-chairman of the Singapore Institute of Directors.

Women also tend to be more reluctant than men to take up board positions, the task force said.

"Women are less likely to put themselves forward or are more likely to feel that they may not be adequately qualified for a director or senior management role. Men are seen to be more assertive in putting themselves forward, even if they do not meet all the requirements of a role," it said.

The majority - 73 per cent - of companies surveyed said there should not be a quota imposed on the number of female board members, as directors should be hired based on merit.

Respondents preferred putting in place measures to broaden the search and nomination process for potential board candidates, and implementing initiatives to identify potential directors.

Companies should cast the net wider and hire the best person for the job regardless of gender, said Mr Chan.

"There are definitely enough women candidates out there - it is a matter of getting boards to be open-minded enough to consider them," he said.


Percentage of women holding directorship in listed firms in April 2013

19% - Britain

17.3% - Australia

9.4% - Hong Kong

9% - China

8.7% - Malaysia

8.3% - Singapore

Steps to put more women on company boards
Action panel will persuade firms to voluntarily rectify gender imbalance
By Mok Fei Fei, The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2014

COMPANIES here will be encouraged to voluntarily put more women on their boards to redress the severe gender imbalance.

A task force set up to look at the issue has just reported back - and has opted not to recommend legislation to mandate female directorships.

But it will step up pressure on firms, and is calling on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) to highlight the need for more women directors in its rules. The taskforce is also recommending that the Code of Corporate Governance should emphasise gender diversity.

Already the Government has agreed to lead by example by appointing more women to statutory boards.

Noting that the causes for the low female representation in boardrooms here are complex, the Diversity Task Force said legislating on the issue would result only in numbers being met.

It would not really address the issue of having greater diversity and consequently higher quality in the compositions of boards.

A survey commissioned by the task force found that just 8.3 per cent of board seats in Singapore- listed firms were held by women, lower than in countries like Australia, Britain, China and Malaysia. Its 10 recommendations include urging regulators to consider requiring firms to disclose gender diversity policies.

Firms are also being urged to adopt a formal search and nomination process for board appointments, instead of relying on informal networks that are traditionally the domain of men.

Other recommendations include having prominent business leaders as advocates, giving out awards or publishing rankings on how firms have fared and having more research on the issue. Courses should also be offered to get women ready to be directors with an estimated 1,000 women needed to be trained by 2020 if they are to take up 20 per cent of seats.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who initiated the task force in late 2012 when she was the then Minister of State for Social and Family Development, said the economic prowess of women must be harnessed. "I cannot imagine that there's a 100 per cent population, 50 per cent women, 50 per cent men, but we are making use of only one engine, the other engine is not fully utilised."

A Diversity Action Committee will be set up to help implement the recommendations made. SGX chief executive Magnus Bocker has been appointed its chair.

The task force submitted its recommendations to Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing.

Mr Chan, who described himself and Mr Bocker as "the thorns among roses" as the only male panellists at yesterday's briefing, said the Government is very supportive of the work. It will lend secretarial support to the committee and move to put more women on its statutory boards.

OCBC spokesman Koh Ching Ching said the bank is always "on the lookout for good directors, who possess the necessary skills and experience". The bank lost its only woman director Fang Ai Lian after she declined re-election at its recent annual general meeting.

Rajah & Tann lawyer Kala Anandarajah, who sits on her firm's executive committee as well as several statutory boards, said: "Only when we have diversity of thinking at board and senior management meetings can we avoid succumbing to groupthink."

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