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New diversity council set up to champion more women in Singapore’s boardrooms

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New diversity council set up to champion more women in Singapore’s boardrooms

​SINGAPORE has formed a 20-member council comprising well-known individuals with deep management and board expertise across various sectors to press for more women in boardrooms here.

The Council for Board Diversity is co-chaired by the Singapore Exchange chief executive Loh Boon Chye, and chairman of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre Mildred Tan, while Singapore President Halimah Yacob is the council’s patron, said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in a statement.

The new council is essentially taking over the work from the Diversity Action Committee (DAC) that was formed four years ago by the MSF. This time, its agenda of championing more women on boards covers a wider net, not just of Singapore-listed firms but also organisations in the people and public sectors.

"It is a natural progression for statutory boards and charities to be included so that organisations in the people and public sectors can also harness the benefits of a leadership with diversity of thought," said Madam Halimah in her speech at the first engagement session with the newly formed council.

The DAC’s efforts, chiefly in relation to the Top 100 listed firms on the SGX, have reaped visible rewards. In 2013, before the DAC was formed in August 2014, the representation of women in Singapore’s corporate boards stood at 7.5 per cent. As at end-2018, this has doubled to 15.2 per cent.

"This is a good achievement. But of course, we all acknowledge that it is still a challenge for us to reach the first-tier target of 20 per cent by the end of next year, and further effort is necessary," said Madam Halimah.

The council’s mandate is to amp up awareness on the importance of board diversity, engage with stakeholders and partners to develop the pipeline of board-ready women, and work with the government on policies and programmes that impact women on boards.

"The benefits of having more diverse boards are well known and accepted. The diversity allows organisations to have access to fresh perspectives for better decision-making and risk management.

"This has been shown to lead to more robust corporate governance and improved stewardship of organisations," said Madam Halimah, adding that women on boards is one aspect of board diversity.

She urged for a more concerted effort to look widely for suitable candidates versus staying with accustomed sources to bring about a change.

"Companies could even look beyond our shores for board candidates, such as when they expand abroad. After all, overseas companies have come to Singapore for board members," she added.

"Organisations, especially those that have not had women directors, should seriously consider whether they really have valid reasons for resisting diversity and its benefits," she remarked.

Madam Halimah was adviser to the DAC which has now been renamed the Council for Board Diversity with an expanded scope. Some of the council members include IBM Asia Pacific’s vice-president of Industry Solutions & Business Development Janet Ang,Shell Companies in Singapore ex-Chairman Goh Swee Chen, DBS Group chief executive Piyush Gupta and Singtel and Singapore Post chairmanSimon Israel who represent the private sector alongside four others.

Among those representing the people sector include chairman of the National Healthcare Group and the Yale-NUS College Governing board Kay Kuok, and National Trades Union Congress president Mary Liew, while managing partner of Eng and Co LLC and board director of Central Provident Fund Rachel Eng, and deputy managing director (financial supervision) of the Monetary Authority of Singapore Ong Chong Tee represent the public sector.

This post was originally published on January .16, 2019, for Business Times.

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