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Steps to put more women on company boards

The Straits Times | Mok Fei Fei | Monday, Apr 28, 2014

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing with the report on the recommendations of the Diversity Task Force. Beside him are (from left) task force chairman Mildred Tan, Madam Halimah Yacob, who initiated the task force in 2012, and SGX chief and Diversity Action Committee chair Magnus Bocker.

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."

feimok@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 26 in The Straits Times.

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