Singapore making strides in leadership and boardroom diversity

Singapore has significantly increased gender diversity on corporate boards, with women now holding 23.7% of seats in top SGX-listed companies.
By: | June 24, 2024

Singapore has made notable strides in advancing gender diversity on corporate boards over the past decade. According to the Council for Board Diversity’s Singapore Board Diversity Review, women now hold 23.7% of board seats in the top 100 Singapore Exchange (SGX)-listed organisations, a significant increase from 7.5% in 2013.

This positive trend extends to statutory boards and charities, with women’s participation reaching 32.7% and 31% respectively. These figures reflect a broader recognition of the strategic value of gender-diverse boards, yet challenges remain in sustaining and accelerating this momentum.

Koh Yan Ping, CEO of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO), underscored the progress and the work still to be done. “Although we remain hopeful that the target set by the Council of Board Diversity to achieve 30% by 2030 is on track, it is critical that we do not sit on our laurels,” she told HRM Asia, while pointing to the need for greater collaboration between the private and public sectors to maintain and strengthen the current momentum.

Despite widespread acknowledgement among business leaders in Singapore about the benefits of gender diversity, there is a collective inertia in translating this understanding into actionable change. Koh highlighted the disparity between narrative and action, citing informal board succession planning and appointment processes as barriers. The perceived lack of a pipeline of qualified female directors often serves as an excuse for the underrepresentation of women, resulting in the over-boarding of the few women who do make it to the top.

BoardAgender: Paving the way for female leadership

Established in 2011 by the SCWO, BoardAgender is a pivotal initiative to increase women’s presence in senior leadership and boardroom roles. The initiative focuses on mentoring, structured networking, non-technical training, and introducing aspiring female directors as board observers. These efforts are designed to help women build the necessary skills, relationships, and expertise to thrive in board roles.

Koh emphasised the importance of current directors mentoring aspiring female directors and providing structured networking opportunities to bridge the gap between them and their male counterparts.

“We believe many women in Singapore who have the right technical skills and experiences to add value in the boardroom are open to stepping up into board roles,” – Koh Yan Ping, CEO of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO)

“We believe many women in Singapore who have the right technical skills and experiences to add value in the boardroom are open to stepping up into board roles,” she said. “They, however, need additional support to build trusted relationships and expertise in board dynamics to support them in being appointed to and be successful in these roles.”

For long-term success, developing a sustainable pipeline of board-ready women is crucial. This preparation should begin early in their careers, fostering networks and soft skills relevant to board dynamics. Koh suggested initiatives such as mandatory gender diversity disclosures for organisations with over 100 employees, encouraging young women to engage in board work from university onwards, and providing scholarships for director training.

Recent regulatory changes have been instrumental in driving the increase in female board appointments. Enhancements to the regulatory framework for SGX-listed organisations and charities, including requirements for board diversity policy disclosures and a nine-year cap on independent director tenures, have placed greater emphasis on diversity. These measures, along with encouragement from governance stakeholders and global recognition of the value of diverse boards, have contributed to the rise in women’s participation.

READ MORE: South-East Asia sees an increase in women on the board of directors

In April 2024, at the launch of a public consultation on facilitating shareholder-requisitioned meetings, Tan Boon Gin, CEO of Singapore Exchange Regulation, highlighted the crucial role of regulatory changes in promoting board diversity and renewal. He said, “Driving ‘value focus’ behaviour starts with the board of directors. This is why we have introduced a nine-year limit on the tenure of independent directors, to promote board independence and encourage board renewal. New directors will bring new ideas and be less wedded to legacy businesses. Likewise, our new rule mandating board diversity disclosures.”

“We believe that greater diversity helps to improve decision-making and openness to opportunities in new areas such as sustainability. We have also sought to increase the transparency of the link between pay and long-term value creation by enhancing remuneration disclosures of the board and CEO.”

Achieving greater gender diversity on boards in Singapore requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders. Women need to enhance their readiness proactively, organisations must commit to opening opportunities, and the government and regulators should continue to enforce and incentivise diversity. As Koh aptly concluded, “Increased gender diversity on boards is not just good for business—it is good for everyone, in line with greater sustainability.”

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