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Smaller increase in female directors at Singapore's top 100 firms last year

Singapore

ALTHOUGH women filled more seats in the boardrooms of Singapore companies last year, the pace of increase has slowed from previous years, the Council for Board Diversity (CBD) said in a report on Tuesday.

Among the 100 largest primary-listed companies on the Singapore Exchange (SGX), women on average made up 16.2 per cent of directors at end-2019, improving by one percentage point from the previous year.

This is a smaller improvement compared to the 2.1 percentage point increase in 2018 and the 2.2 percentage point rise in 2017.

Women's participation in the boardroom within the top 100 Singapore-listed firms can grow to 25 per cent - based on an average board size of 8.5 directors - as long as the firms with zero or one female director move towards having at least two female directors, CBD said.

"This will bring Singapore closer to the levels seen in international markets and unequivocally show active diversity and a progressive mindset for these companies," it added.

Of the top 100 listed companies, 19 did not have any women on their boards as at end-2019.

This is an improvement from 2013, when 50 of the companies had all-male boards.

However, CBD urged the 19 remaining firms to "start taking decisive action or risk being left behind". Most of these companies have never had a female board member.

In contrast, 39 of the top 100 firms had one female director as at the end of last year.

There were also 42 companies with two or more female directors, tripling from 14 such companies in 2013. A few of them - Mapletree Commercial Trust, Singapore Telecommunications and Singapore Post - have at least four female directors.

Most industry-sectors in the Republic saw improvements in women's boardroom representation. As a whole, firms in the telecommunications sector have the highest percentage of female board members, at 31 per cent.

As for statutory boards and institutions of a public character (IPCs) in Singapore, women's board representation also grew last year.

Statutory boards showed a 1.8 percentage point improvement to 25.1 per cent. There is only one board with all-male directors, CBD said.

In Singapore's top 100 IPCs by donation receipts, women accounted for 27.8 per cent of board members, up 0.4 percentage point, as at end-2019.

To boost board gender diversity, companies could start with setting a target of having at least two to three female directors. "Having one woman on the board is the first step in a transition to a gender diverse board, not the end goal," CBD said.

It cited studies which have shown that having a "critical mass" of at least three female directors can help companies fully reap the benefits of gender diversity, as it changes the way women are able to share their insights, versus being the lone female voice on the board.

Organisations should also ensure that their nominating committee (NC) includes female directors. CBD added that it can help to recommend female board candidates.

Loh Boon Chye, co-chair of CBD and chief executive officer (CEO) of SGX, said: "We believe the discussion and process of decision-making can be enriched as the proportion of women on boards increase."

The CBD is a 20-member council established by the Ministry of Social and Family Development in 2019 under the patronage of Singapore President Halimah Yacob.

To boost board gender diversity, companies could start with setting a target of having at least two to three female directors. "Having one woman on the board is the first step in a transition to a gender diverse board, not the end goal," the Council for Board Diversity said.