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Women's share of board seats hits double digits

But 10.3% rate is still far from '20% by 2020 target' for listed companies

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Women's share of board seats in Singapore-listed companies has breached the 10 per cent mark for the first time since data collection began, the Diversity Action Committee (DAC) has reported.

Singapore

WOMEN'S share of board seats in Singapore-listed companies has breached the 10 per cent mark for the first time since data collection began, the Diversity Action Committee (DAC) has reported.

Although the 10.3 per cent participation rate for women was an improvement from the 9.9 per cent measured six months ago, gender diversity remains short of the board gender diversity advocacy group's escalating targets of 20 per cent by 2020, 25 per cent by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030.

The proportion of boards with at least one woman director remained mostly flat, at 48 per cent compared to 47 per cent six months ago.

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The latest improvements were driven by Mainboard-listed companies, most notably the larger ones. Women's share of board seats on these companies with a market capitalisation of more than S$1 billion rose 1.1 percentage points to 11.9 per cent over the six-month period.

Among the 100 largest companies, women occupied 12.2 per cent of board seats, up from 10.9 per cent as at end-2016.

The junior Catalist platform, however, was a drag, with women's share of board seats declining to 9.2 per cent from 9.8 per cent.

DAC chairman Loh Boon Chye, who is also the chief executive of the Singapore Exchange, said: "It is encouraging to see our larger companies taking the lead in increasing diversity by appointing women on their boards."

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin lauded the latest development and urged companies to "cast their net wider and appoint more women directors with diverse skills and expertise" to enhance board effectiveness.

The DAC had focused its latest report on new appointments, noting that only 12 per cent of appointments over the past 21/2 years were taken by women.

That is an improvement over the current participation rate, but is still short of the pace required to meet DAC's 20 per cent by 2020 target.

Singapore Institute of Directors (SID) executive director Joyce Koh described the DAC's target as a stretch, but doable.

"The trick is to get sufficient awareness and take it up to an inflection point where most companies will actively appoint suitable women to boards," she said.

She noted that efforts to improve diversity have received some take-up, including about 220 companies taking a board diversity pledge that was launched in 2015, and an interest in the Institute's Board Appointment Service Programme, which tries to ensure women are among the slates of candidates that companies consider for new appointments.

SID is also in the middle of producing a Women Directors publication to highlight the issue.

DAC urged corporate boards to be more open to appointing first-time directors and to look for directors with skills that do not fall within the traditional spheres of finance, law or strategy and planning.

Citing international executive search firm Spencer Stuart, DAC said that expertise in digital, social media, cyber security, big data and human capital are emerging gaps that leading companies are prioritising.

The DAC said in a statement: "Companies searching for directors with new skill sets do not have to look far.

"DAC found that there are almost as many women as men in senior management of the Top 100 primary-listed companies in fields of communications, marketing and human capital.

"There are also many senior women executives in the information technology sector in multinational corporations and consulting firms based in Singapore."

DAC reiterated its call for Singapore's comply-or-explain Code of Corporate Governance to include guidelines for companies to disclose diversity policies and targets. The Code is being reviewed.

Mr Loh said: "Numbers aside, our starting point must be that we want stronger boards, better equipped to tackle this turbulent future. In order to achieve this, companies need to get the best talent available. We do have a growing pool of qualified female potential directors that is under-tapped."

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