FEMALE representation on the boards of Singapore-listed companies increased to 9.5 per cent of total directorships in 2015, with blue chips leading the charge, the Diversity Action Committee (DAC) announced on Monday.
The proportion rose 0.7 percentage points from the 8.8 per cent tally in 2014. It was the sixth straight annual increase, according to data from DAC and its predecessor, the Diversity Task Force regarding Women on Boards.
Women comprised 14 per cent of all new director appointments in 2015, up from 11.9 per cent in 2014 and the highest share in the past 15 years, which is the longest period for which data is available.
The percentage of boards that had women on them also improved to 47.6 per cent, from 44.5 per cent a year earlier. Looking beyond its shores, however, Singapore lagged many of its global peers. Women represented 11.8 per cent of directors in Hong Kong as at Dec 31, 2015, and 10.2 per cent of directors in Malaysia in 2015. Norway as at October 2014 had 35.5 per cent of board seats taken by women - leading the way.
Companies in the Straits Times Index (STI) demonstrated some of the sharpest gains. The percentage of board seats occupied by women at these firms rose to 10.2 per cent in 2015 from 7.6 per cent in 2014.
Companies on the Catalist board also improved, with 9.8 per cent of board seats occupied by women in 2015 compared to 8.5 per cent a year earlier.
In terms of industries, media-related businesses had the largest women representation on their boards, with 21 per cent of board seats held by women, more than double the market average of 9.5 per cent. On the other end of the spectrum, auto and auto component companies filled just 3 per cent of their board seats with women.
"For the past two years, we have seen a significant improvement in the number of women directors on boards of SGX-listed companies, especially in large companies," DAC chairman Magnus Bocker said in a statement. "This indicates that companies are responding to investor groups and DAC's call for greater gender diversity on boards, as part of a broader view of board diversity. We believe that companies will appoint more women directors in the coming years as this would give them an edge in managing their risks and opportunities to bring the companies forward."
Lawyer Rachel Eng of Wong Partnership, who sits on the boards of Starhub and SPH Reit, said it was good to see positive momentum.
"I think DAC has tried to bring that high-level conversation to the boardrooms talking to nominating committee chairs et cetera, getting commitment from human capital firms and recruitment firms to put up women candidates. So we're not just talking about grand plans, but also detailed plans on the ground," she said.
Ms Eng said it was important to keep diversity on the agenda with the economy headed for a slowdown.
"Right now everyone's busy with challenging business conditions...This topic may not get top priority if businesses are trying to make ends meet," she said.
While practical limitations, such as the renewal cycle of existing directorships, may make it difficult to improve diversity as quickly as desired, companies should not hesitate to find and keep female talent, Ms Eng said. However, she was not supportive of imposing a quota right now.
"The general preference among the women leaders is to not have a fixed quota," she said. "Most women, especially in Singapore where we value meritocracy, want to be appointed based on their merit rather than to fill a number."