Ms Fu, elaborate please in case the men don’t get it

Mar 28, 2017 11.30AM |

by Bertha Henson

OKAY, here are the four companies that have been singled out for public opprobrium because of their all-male boards.

1. Genting Singapore: five men
2. Global Logistic Properties (GLP): 10 men
3. Wilmar International: 11 men
4. Golden Agri-Resources: eight men

Half of the boards of 751 listed companies are all-male, so why Minister Grace Fu decided to single these four is a bit of a mystery.

So it seems a quota system is going to be applied in corporate leadership ranks.

You, our readers, are the reason we exist. Your contributions allow us to bring fair and balanced news to everyone, regardless of the ability to donate. Support us by being our patron.

The People’s Action Party Women’s Wing, along with BoardAgender, an initiative of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations, want at least 20 per cent of female directors on boards of listed companies and statutory boards by 2020.

Is this a tall order? The current ratio of women directors to male directors is 9.7 per cent – a slow climb from the 8.3 per cent in 2013.

But it’s a good bet that it will happen given that the champion is no less than the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth. The women’s lobby wants the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to make gender diversity mandatory, by imposing a “comply or explain’’ disclosure policy as part of its Code of Corporate Governance for listed companies.

Yeah! A victory for the fairer sex who have long been held down by a glass ceiling because the old boys’ club wants to keep them out! Yeah!

Except that it leaves a sour taste in the mouth to have to “force’’ the issue on corporations. It can be seen this way: that men are deliberately keeping women out of the boardroom despite their qualifications; that qualified women have turned down directorships or that women aren’t good enough to be invited in.

Wilmar told The Straits Times that while its board is supportive of gender diversity, its view is that it “should not be the main selection criterion”.

“Board appointments based on the right blend of skills, ability to contribute effectively and experience relevant to Wilmar’s business should remain a priority.”

(Doesn’t it sound like the discussions on the elected presidency? The candidate must have the requisite qualifications first, then race becomes a factor.)

So companies will have to start scouring for women candidates for their boards if it doesn’t want to have to go to the trouble of explaining to MAS why the executive toilet is used by men only.

For a very long time, we’ve resisted attempts to set quotas based on gender, except for female enrolment in the medical faculty some time ago. The emphasis of women’s groups was more on granting equal benefits to men and women and getting men to do right by their women, such as paying for maintenance in divorce cases, and rejecting the objectification of women.

The political sphere was much derided in the past for the lack of female representation in Parliament and in the Cabinet. But over the years, the numbers have increased without any kind of rule or requirement imposed. Now, there are 24 female MPs and one female minister. In fact, the PAP women’s wing wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in its quest for more female directors if it didn’t have a female minister to push for it.

Some people will wonder: What will women directors bring to the boardroom table that men can’t?

ST tried to find out.

Singtel group chief executive Chua Sock Koong said the ability to draw upon a diverse collection of skills and experiences has led to better execution of the firm’s business strategies.

It’s a pity she didn’t elaborate.

DBS Bank, which has two female directors, said the board’s diversity provides a wider range of views and expertise, which helps board members better identify possible risks, pose challenging questions and contribute to problem-solving. Which is so broad that it doesn’t say anything.

SingPost, which has three female directors, said: “A wide range of perspectives is critical for an effective board.” But doesn’t say how.

The companies cited missed a chance to tell of the difference a woman’s input makes. Some examples might open the boardroom doors wider in future.

The push for female representation shouldn’t simply be a diversity issue – or we might as well push for multi-racial representation as well. The men must understand why it is good for them.

What can be said though is that women directors would be good for women who work in the companies. They will understand why women need Pap smears and mammograms among medical benefits, and why they shouldn’t be unfairly penalised in career prospects because they took maternity leave. Likewise they know the importance of having more female toilets than male toilets.

And no, this is not an attempt at being facetious. Hopefully, the women’s lobby will come up with more examples of the corporate kind, in case the men don’t get it.


Featured image by Sean Chong. 

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.