Diversity on boards can unlock women's talent

PHOTO: Diversity on boards can unlock women's talent

I refer to Mr Sulthan Niaz's letter in response to the findings in the third edition of the annual Singapore Board Diversity Report ("Gender not an issue in firms' success"; last Friday).

Various other studies have also shown a similar positive relationship between board diversity and business performance.

While these studies may not have claimed cause and effect, they do suggest that the market is signalling a premium for companies with diverse boards, which investors are prepared to reward with higher prices.

It may be that companies with diverse boards are more progressive and responsive to change in general and thus perform better, or that a diverse board leads to better and more robust decision-making.

Today, women make up close to 51 per cent of the total cohort enrolled in our local universities, and about 42 per cent of professionals, managers, executives and technicians.

Yet, only about 8 per cent of all board directors in Singapore's listed firms are women. Indeed, men have traditionally dominated the boardrooms of companies and organisations.

However, is it, as Mr Niaz wrote, because men are more motivated than women to pursue high-status and high-paying jobs, or could it be because companies are not doing enough to broaden their search and nomination processes out of their usual circles to achieve greater diversity?

This is an issue worthy of attention. Given the keen global competition for human capital, coupled with an ageing workforce, we would need to cast the net wider and tap into and unlock women's talent potential with greater gender diversity on boards.

We should encourage companies to adopt and disclose a diversity policy in their annual reports, with measurable objectives.

With better education, women in Singapore, as with men, do aspire to have meaningful careers.

But it goes beyond just having suitable human resource policies and practices to better attract, retain and groom female talent. It also requires changes in the way we view the role of women in our families, workplaces and society.

With better sharing of family responsibilities and a supportive workplace, women will be better able to balance and pursue their family and career goals. And more will hopefully find the opportunity to sit on company boards.

Grace Fu (Ms)

Minister, Prime Minister's Office

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