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Quota for female directors not ruled out: Grace Fu

Large listed companies with no female directors named and shamed

[SINGAPORE] Singapore is not ruling out the possibility of imposing a quota for female directors on the boards of listed companies here, though, at present, it would prefer to up the representation of women on boards through non-regulatory means.

This was revealed by Grace Fu, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, on the sidelines of the Singapore Institute of Directors (SID) Directors' Conference 2014 on Wednesday.

She was speaking to reporters after delivering a speech to some 650 corporate leaders and directors who attended the conference, during which she had also pushed for greater diversity on local boards.

Her speech had touched on the need for companies to be adaptable, sustainable and diverse, in order to remain competitive in the new economy - one in which the needs of all stakeholders, and not just a business's shareholders, have to be considered.

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"To manage the ensuing complexity, one way is to ensure that leadership has access to the counsel of a diverse board," Ms Fu said in her speech. "Women board members will provide relevant insights and guidance, and attend to the development and retention of women employees in the company."

She pointed out, however, that Singapore was slow in making progress on this front. She cited a report out earlier this year by the Diversity Task Force, which found that women hold only 8.3 per cent of directorships in Singapore-listed companies, below the global average of 11 per cent.

"Even some of the largest listed companies do not have a single woman board member. For example, Genting Singapore, Global Logistics Properties, Golden Agri-Resources, Olam International, StarHub and Wilmar International."

Acknowledging the enthusiastic applause from the crowd in reaction to her reading out this list of companies, Ms Fu quipped: "I assure you that the next time I am invited back to this conference, I will read a longer list."

Responding later to the media's queries about whether the government would consider imposing a quota for female directors on boards, Ms Fu said: "I think there is always an option through regulation, something that we wouldn't rule out. But, obviously, I think right now, we hope that by urging board chairmen and board members, we could get some of this momentum going.

"Increasingly, I think that it is the contribution of women that people will value, and once they do that, they will see that it is only natural they should be part of their board, part of their leadership."

Ms Fu added, however, that while it was important to consider the gender element, "board diversity has to be looked at broadly".

"It's about bringing in people with different expertise, different experience and different perspectives. So, functional areas - such as legal, technology, HR (human resources) - these are all good to have on a board.

"What I would like boards to look at is how they (can) beef up (their) composition to (ensure they) have a more diverse background and perspective, helping them to guide them through this more complex environment."

The subject of a more complex environment was the theme of this year's SID Directors' Conference.

SID chairman Willie Cheng spoke of it in his opening address. He said that the traditional definition of capitalism, focused on maximising shareholder value, "is far too narrow, divisive and destructive". He said that the world was making way for a new form of capitalism, one which emphasises "satisfying and reconciling the needs of multiple stakeholders: from investors, customers, suppliers and employees, to the community and the environment".

"Instead of just economic value, values - corporate values and community values - are also important in a sustaining corporate ecosystem."