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Board gender diversity here appalling: Bocker

But SGX chief is against use of quotas as they go against meritocracy

[SINGAPORE] Magnus Bocker, chief executive of the Singapore Exchange (SGX), says he finds the lack of gender diversity on boards here "appalling", but that he is not in favour of quotas to increase the level of diversity, either.

Mr Bocker, who was part of a panel discussion at the CPA Congress 2013 yesterday, expressed his dismay at the proportion of women directors on boards in Singapore, saying: "I'm shocked at the numbers - the numbers are appalling.

"I think there's actually a reputational risk to Singapore in having the board structure we have; I think (only) 7 to 8 per cent of the boards right now have female (representation)," he said.

Mr Bocker did add, however, that he believed the low proportion of women directors on boards has to do with the fact that a lot of the companies here are young, and are first and second-generation companies. "Compare this to companies who have 200 to 300 years of history, or at least three generations of history, of course that (the low proportion) will change."

He added that the change will not happen overnight, "so we as an exchange, rest assured, will be there pushing (for this) . . . encouraging companies to explain why they are not having a certain (type of) diversity . . . We will push it".

Mr Bocker, however, does not believe that Singapore ought to prescribe quotas for female representation on boards the way some countries have.

"Quotas - I don't believe in, because it takes all the meritocracy that we've been so good (in) building (up in our companies) . . . (Board composition) needs to be built on meritocracy, on skillset," he stressed.

Fellow panellist Tan Su Shan, managing director and group head of Consumer Banking & Wealth Management at DBS Bank, agreed with Mr Bocker. "It's long overdue for Singapore to push for more diversity for boards," she said, adding that the challenge would be "to encourage board members to accept that diversity ain't a bad thing".

"To get a team to work together - now, that's the trick, because you would so much rather work with a team (whose) interests are aligned and you're all cosy and comfortable and know each other really well.

"But to bring in an outsider, who comes in with a fresh perspective, totally out of the box, and maybe a little bit uncomfortable . . . That makes you strong . . . It's constructive, as long as the team still trusts one another and can work together, despite this diversity and very different talents," Ms Tan said.

The panel was part of a full-day conference organised by CPA Australia to look at issues of leadership, the economic and business landscape, and accounting issues.

Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo, in her keynote address to over 280 attendees, spoke about how Singapore will have to adopt a "stewardship mindset" that would compel the country "to do not only what is expedient but to focus squarely on addressing fundamental issues".

For the accounting profession, in particular, Mrs Teo said that it needs to invest in capability development and specialisation, as well as for the industry to come together to share their resources.

To that end, CPA Australia has started a pilot programme - with an experimental group of nine small and medium-sized accounting practices (SMPs) - to increase the capability, acquire and expand on the range of services offered by SMPs.

Called the Singapore Accountancy Alliance (SAA), it "is focused on sharing resources, expanding their (the SMPs) range of services, and leveraging synergies", CPA Australia's Singapore divisional president, associate professor Themin Suwardy, said.

Some of the initiatives developed under the SAA include the development of audit manual training for SMP staff and the development of a closed online forum platform.

CPA Australia intends for this initiative, announced for the first time yesterday, to grow in size and scope in the future - among other things, it is looking to develop more customised technical training and to build capability in talent attraction for SMPs.