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Singapore – Quotas should be considered to increase board gender diversity

13 November 2013

With women making up only 6.3% of board membership in Singapore’s top 100 companies, in terms of market capitalisation, introducing a gender quota may help to improve the situation, according to executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International, reports Singapore Today.

Alicia Yi, Managing Director for Korn/Ferry’s Asia Pacific Consumer Markets, commented: “While Singapore is well-positioned to be at the forefront of gender diversity in the boardrooms with many ‘equally educated’ women, more than half of the largest companies here do not have women on their boards.”

Ms Yi yesterday presented a preview of a study on board diversity in nine Asian countries. Speaking during a panel discussion at the Global Corporate Governance Conference organised by the Securities Investors Association Singapore (SIAS), she said: “That puts Singapore close to the bottom of the pile. It’s such a missed opportunity, in my opinion. From that perspective, if it’s required, a quota should be considered.”

Several countries have introduced compulsory quotas to ensure greater representation of women on the boards of publicly-traded companies. In Norway, 40% of board members have to be women, and Malaysia has proposed to have a 30% quota of women on the boards by 2016.

But implementing a quota in Singapore may “work against women in the boardroom”, said Joint Managing Director of TSMP Law Corporation Stefanie Yuen Thio, one of the panellists alongside Ms Yi.

“I think the principal reason (of not having many female board members) is not that the men are blocking them from coming in. I think it’s because they’re not putting up their hands,” said Ms Thio. She also noted that women in Asia face the additional “Asian requirements” to be a mother, wife, homemaker, and career woman at the same time.

The discussion came only days after Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Grace Fu urged the Monetary Authority of Singapore to require companies to disclose their diversity policy in their annual reports.

Speaking at the opening of SIAS Corporate Governance Week last Friday, Ms Fu cited two studies by consultancy firm McKinsey and Credit Suisse bank that found that companies with higher female representation in executive committees and boards performed better than those with lower or no female representation.

With or without a quota, the panel agreed that more can be done to increase women’s participation in the boards of companies in Singapore.

“I think we need to be teaching and empowering women to stay on in the marketplace, to help them understand why they’re not rising to the top and help them envision a future where they can do it all,” Ms Thio added.

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