Singapore businesses are being urged to take a more proactive outlook on increasing the gender balance in board rooms, with many businesses becoming slow to react.
The report, by Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI and BoardAgender), used qualitative interviews with 41 Singapore-based businesses and ranked the firms according to how they sit within four philosophical approaches to the issue. The aim was to see if it can push better behaviours within businesses that would help Singapore reach its target of 20% representation by 2020.
According to the data, 10% of businesses were classed as resistive deniers, 7% passive onlookers, 54% a meritocracy onlooker and just 29% leading the charge as conscious champions.
Data from the Diversity Action Committee (DAC) in 2017 found Singapore’s female board representation to sit at around 12.2%, needing firms to increase this by over 7% in two years. The number has risen in recent years, as even in 2016, the number was being quoted at around 9.7%.
By comparison, Germany has 27.2% female board representation and the figure is 27% in the UK. The US sits at 20% and Hong Kong 15%.
According to HCLI and BoardAgender, the volume of businesses sitting in the ‘meritocracy onlooker’ category chimes with Singapore’s broader favouring of merit but was leading to slower progression.
Dr Don Chen, assistant vice president of knowledge and Solutions at HCLI and lead researcher of the project said that women can fall off the radar of committees due to not fitting a set mould or typical profile, which may end up impacting, or narrowing, a meritocratic approach.
“Meritocracy and gender diversity are not mutually exclusive. Boards need to strike a balance between looking for candidates who fit their archetype to a ‘T’ and the benefits of gender diversity where members bring a greater variety of skills and perspectives to the table,” said Dr Chen.
To be able to hit the target, Chen believes more businesses need to shift into the mindset of the ‘conscious champions’.
Two Singapore-firms recognised for their approach to gender diversity, in a separate study by Bloomberg, are small examples of businesses taking new steps towards a more gender balanced working environment.
The report gives two suggestions for transformation that businesses can adopt to move the process along. The first stage is ‘adopt a deliberate and targeted board renewal process’ which addresses common issues around entrenched board directors or replacements that copy the profile of the former member. The second is ‘protect the independence of nominating committees to enhance selection process’ which suggests having nominating committees that are more progressive and balanced.
Finally, the report gave three ‘critical touchpoints’ that need to be addressed in order to reach the 20% by 2020 target:
Boards and nominating committees need to re-examine their perceptions of what ‘suitable’ means in the context of board roles in Singapore. Search criteria for directors needs to be adjusted to meet future business needs, not just existing business concerns.
Realistic gender diversity goals need to be set for companies and/or boards. Stakeholders who are proficient change agents need to be activated to revolutionise existing practices.
Review board guidelines and the status quo, revise the current nomination and selection approach to maximise the potential in the talent pool to achieve diversity.
The report was sponsored by Accenture, ADP, Goldman Sachs, Singtel and TAFEP.