Gender ceiling in boardrooms 'cause for concern'

More women in Singapore may be climbing up the corporate ladder but they still face a gender ceiling when it comes to board representation at locally listed companies.

Despite making up 44 per cent of the local workforce, women accounted for a mere 7.3 per cent of board members at these companies in 2011, according to the Singapore Board Diversity Report 2012.

While the proportion may have risen from 5.8 per cent in 2009, the lack of female representation in the higher corporate echelons here is telling when compared to other countries.

For instance, Singapore ranked behind China and Australia, which scored 8.5 per cent and 13.8 per cent in female board representation respectively.

This trend is a cause for concern for Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who attended a gender diversity meeting yesterday.

"With the dearth of talent in Singapore, we should really examine whether there are systemic barriers impeding the appointment of women onto boards," she said.

"It is not so much an issue of gender diversity or women's rights but rather what companies and by extension society are losing out on by not tapping the potential of women."

Madam Halimah initiated the Diversity Task Force (DTF) last year when she was Minister of State for the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

The DTF was formed to address gender diversity issues at the workplace in response to concerns of female under-representation in top corporate positions.

Mrs Mildred Tan, chairman of the six-member DTF, said companies that have more women sitting in the boardroom tend to perform better.

"Studies have shown that an all-male board can (help a company) yield an average return on equity (ROE) of 12 per cent," Mrs Tan said.

"But if you add one woman to that, the average ROE rises to 16 per cent."

When asked what the barriers are that hinder more women from becoming board members, Mrs Tan listed a lack of awareness of qualified female talent, and existing board members who are averse to change.

To address this issue, the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) will launch a survey next month to find out more about gender diversity in the boardroom and senior management.

The survey is targeted at chief executives of Singapore Exchange-listed companies and statutory boards, and is part of a study headed by the DTF.

Mrs Tan said the DTF hopes to get sufficient participants to take part in the survey.

The DTF is expected to produce a report with recommendations to the Government and businesses by early next year.

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