Mdm Halimah spoke at a conference for senior women executives and professionals organised by the Diversity Action Committee (DAC) on 29 September.
She said that neither the percentage of board seats filled by women nor the average annual growth rate of about 0.5% for this demographic were enough.
“At this rate, it will take too long for us to reap the benefits of women's participation at the top decision-making levels of companies.”
DAC chairman, Magnus Bocker, revealed that the percentage of female board members in Singapore-listed companies rose slightly from 8.8% at the end of 2014 to 9.1% at the end of June this year. During this six-month period, women made up 12.7% of new appointments.
This increase was significantly higher for larger organisations with market capital of more than S$1 billion. Here, the representation of women among new appointments rose to 24% during the first half of 2015 compared to 15.6% at the end of 2014.
“It is encouraging to see that more large companies are embracing gender diversity in the boardrooms,” Mr Bocker said at the conference. “DAC hopes that all SGX-listed companies, large and small, will take positive steps to rebalance their board capabilities.”
Drawing a parallel to politics, Mdm Halimah said that there were only three female members of parliament (MPs) when she started her political career in 2000. Today, this number has risen to 21.
“It is not by chance that we have more women MPs now,” she said. “All candidates are, first and foremost, selected based on meritocracy, not by gender.”
“However, we make special efforts to look out for capable women to bring them into politics. This has helped us to have diverse perspectives on issues ranging from the economy, education, social development to national development and security.”
These same strategies could be used to increase diversity on corporate boards, Mdm Halimah said.
In particular, women in positions of power should give their female peers the support they need whenever possible, she said, citing several ways to provide this assistance:
- Encouraging women to stay in the workforce, especially working mothers
- Offering flexible working times so women can stay fully or partially employed
- Providing training programs so women can continue building up their skills
- Giving support for women returning to work through internships, training, etc
- Starting a mentoring program for women in senior roles to teach junior female executives
Keynote speaker, Lee Suet Fern, managing partner for Morgan Lewis Stamford, warned that overlooking the pool of talented women would only bring disadvantage to companies.
“To ignore [these talented women] is to risk overlooking qualified candidates in a talent-scarce market and to miss the chance to enhance the diversity of voices and views that would make for better corporate governance, more dynamic boards and more business-facing companies.”
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