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S'pore needs to appoint 130 female directors annually till 2020 to hit gender diversity target: Grace Fu

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SINGAPORE is still far from reaching a target of having 20 per cent of listed company boards represented by females by 2020, going by data released on Friday.

Figures from the Diversity Action Committee (DAC) showed that representation of females in the boards of top 100 listed companies in Singapore stood at 12.2 per cent as at June last year, and the total representation of women on all companies listed in Singapore was 10.3 per cent.

To achieve the 20 per cent goal - set by DAC in 2016 to address the under-representation of women on the boards of Singapore-listed companies - an additional 130 female directors will have to be appointed each year from now till 2020, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu.

But Ms Fu added that the target is achievable if companies here are committed to make the change.

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"What it takes is half of the companies on SGX, especially those without female directors, to each make an effort to appoint just one female director to their board," she said.

Speaking at the launch of a study on gender diversity on Singapore's boards on Friday, Ms Fu noted that the republic's female labour force participation rate grew from 57 per cent in 2011 to 60.4 per cent in 2016, with women making up more than 45 per cent of the labour force today.

"But women only occupy just over 10 per cent of board seats. This is far from optimal," she said.

Ms Fu added: "Having female board members makes sound business sense, as they can bring diversity in views and ideas to the table. They can help manage gender-based opportunities and challenges. They can also add value to your policies and practices, providing perspectives from women, for women in the workplace.

"As the business landscape rapidly evolves, corporates and boardrooms must adapt and be equipped with more diverse strengths, skills and talent. Only then can you be truly progressive, successful and sustainable in the long run."

The study, conducted by the Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI) and BoardAgender, highlighted much-needed transformations in board processes that will help advance the diversity agenda.

It found that based on 41 interviews with stakeholders from representative groups of firms of different industries and market, the majority warned of the danger of tokenism and the consequences of deviating from a meritocratic nomination process.

"However, unfettered pursuit of meritocracy during nomination and selection process may sometimes preclude the consideration of women as potential candidates," the study said.

Don Chen, assistant vice-president of knowledge and solutions at HCLI and lead researcher of the project, said: "Meritocracy and gender diversity are not mutually exclusive. Boards need to strike a balance between looking for candidates who fit their archetype to a 'T' and the benefits of gender diversity where members bring a greater variety of skills and perspectives to the table."

The study said that companies should adopt a deliberate and targeted board renewal process.

This will counter the issue of having entrenched board directors (board directors who serve longer beyond the recommended number of years) and having boards that seek replacements rather than renewal (boards seeking new members who share the same profile as outgoing directors instead of recruiting new directors who can augment the skill gaps of the board).

It added that companies should also protect the independence of nominating committees to enhance the selection process, given that they have the power to refocus the board by putting in place directors who have the right skills and talent mix to deal with future business challenges.