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Not the business of boards to focus on gender diversity

He suggests that a register for prospective women directors be created
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 06:00

[SINGAPORE] It is the business of boards to establish broad policies for their company and to ensure that it has capable management to carry out these policies; it has never been and should never be their business to be gender-minded.

Such is the view of David Gerald, president and chief executive of the Securities Investors Association (Singapore) or SIAS, the main retail investor lobby group here, in response to the recent increased lobbying for greater gender diversity on boards.

"I am all for having capable and suitable women serving as directors on boards, but we need to ask why there is suddenly so much anxiety surrounding the issue of female representation on boards. What is behind these increased calls for gender diversity?" Mr Gerald said, in an exclusive interview with The Business Times.

"Are we in a situation where women are putting up their hands, applying for positions on boards, and being rejected? I don't believe so. We need to first understand the situation, before we start crying foul."

Mr Gerald set up SIAS almost 15 years ago, to empower, educate and champion the rights of the investor community here.

Yesterday, he said that women do indeed lag men, in terms of their representation on boards, especially in Asia. But he added that this had more to do with women traditionally being less represented in senior and management positions in the workplace and being less forthcoming about wanting to serve on boards, because of family or other concerns, than it has to do with companies not wanting to appoint them.

"What Singapore needs to do is to first set up a register of women directors. Women, who are capable of being directors, of discharging the duties of a director, can put their names on this register if they wish to serve on boards. They can state their qualifications and even their preference for the kind of board they wish to serve on, the type of industry the company is in."

Mr Gerald suggested that such a register could be maintained by the Singapore Institute of Directors (SID) or the Singapore Exchange, or an independent women's organisation.

"Then, the effort could be made to reach out to listed companies, to see if they're looking for women directors; they could then use the register to see if there's someone who fits their requirements.

"Then, if these women - who put themselves up - are being rejected by boards and listed companies, or not given due consideration, that's when the task forces and other lobbyists can push their point about there being a need for greater gender diversity here, and they would then have the credibility to do so."

He also felt that gender diversity should not be a best practice guideline in the Corporate Governance Code or mandated in any way.

"The hands of the nominating committee (of the board) should not be tied that way. If shareholders want more women directors on their boards, or feel their boards are male-dominated, then let them speak up; let it come from the ground. Politics should not have a part in the boardroom."

The issue of gender diversity on boards has received much attention around the world in recent years. In Singapore, the Diversity Task Force, appointed by the government, recently released a study showing that women are under-represented on boards, while the NUS Business School released an annual report on such representation.

Many corporate governance advocates and boardroom consultants feel, however, that true board diversity - where directors bring a range of experience, expertise and viewpoints to the board - is of greater benefit than gender diversity alone.

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