Only 6.9% of board members are women

From ‘Few women at the top in Singapore, compared to some Asian countries’, 25 Oct 2011, article in Today online

Women make up only 6.9 per cent of board members of listed companies on the Singapore Exchange (SGX), according to an inaugural report to track gender diversity in SGX-listed boardrooms.

The report – to be published annually – is a collaboration between BoardAgender, an outreach arm of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations, and the NUS Centre for Governance, Institutions and Organisations.  Its findings prompted Minister of State (Community Development, Youth and Sports) Halimah Yacob to suggest yesterday that Government- and Temasek-linked companies “take the lead and support the appointment of more women to their boards”.

Madam Halimah, who was speaking at the launch of the report, said: “Our women have achieved much progress in education and at work. Yet they continue to face obstacles in rising to the top leadership positions in the corporate world.”

Reiterating that “this is not just a numbers game”, Mdm Halimah described the proportion as “dismal”

The article later explains that some countries have legislation to ensure a minimum number of women filling top positions (including Malaysia), a process which runs against our meritocratic principles. The nations with the highest female representation are also First World European societies with established systems to thwart gender discrimination. Singaporean females are definitely no slouches in academia, but even with our educational/literacy level we’re second last only to India, which at least has had a FEMALE prime minister. We can’t say the same even of our Cabinet, which is currently an all-male affair.

Something has to give between graduation and landing a board membership. It would be tempting to conclude that male chauvinism at the workplace is behind this, but perhaps there are hidden forces, or certain characteristics  or motivations of the typical Singaporean woman which work against meteoric career paths, traits that are impossible to study scientifically, and politically incorrect or insensitive to even mention out loud. A 2009 poll revealed that only 9% of Singaporeans reckon female bosses are better than male ones, with ’emotional’ and ‘temperamental’ cited as behavioral  failings. I’m not sure if  ’employee preference’ has any influence on the success of any boss, male or female.

Here’s the SGX list in full:

Let’s see how boardroom representation correlates to labour force participation for females, according to the World Bank (Assuming that there’s minimal change from 2009 to 2011).

Country                 Sgx ranking(2011)          Labour force participation (2009)

India                       4.7%                                      33%

Singapore              6.9%                                      54% (56.5% in 2011)

Malaysia                7.8%                                      44%

China                       8.1%                                      67%

Hong Kong            8.6%                                      52%

Australia                10.1%                                   58%

EU                             11.7%                                   NA

UK                             12.5%                                   55%

US                              15.7%                                  58%

Finland                    24.5%                                  57%

Sweden                    27.5%                                  61%

Norway                   39.5%                                  63%

What’s striking from the list above is how the UK has almost the same female labour force as us, yet almost twice as many powerful women in boardrooms, while Malaysia beat us even with relatively less females working. But what seems to trend, at least for the top 5 countries, is the higher the proportion of females working (at least 55%), the greater their presence in the boardroom, which seems like a case of simple probability. Well, for the Western world,  at least.   This, however, was a pattern which Singapore (among other Asian giants like China and Hong Kong) somehow managed to buckle. A whiff of  a patriarchal Asian mentality perhaps?

It’s also interesting to correlate corporate leadership with  percentage representation in Parliament. Sweden, Norway and Finland take 3rd, 8th and 7th spot respectively in the ‘Women in National Parliament charts‘, while Singapore is joint 46th with PAKISTAN (though we beat Malaysia, India, US and UK). Not impressive either, so if our women are not hungry for corporate success nor are they dabbling in politics, then what are they up to? How about raising children?

According to the World CIA Factbook 2011, Singapore is languishing in 161st spot at 1.10 in terms of births per woman, while the top 3 Scandinavian countries are hovering just below the 2 mark. Hong Kong, on the other hand, is neck and neck with us at 166th position in fertility rate (1.04), but ranks above us in the SGX index. It appears that fertility by itself has little to do with a woman blazing a career path. If Singaporean women are really giving up top positions to devote their energies to 1.10 kids, then something is terribly wrong with the system. What our women MPs should do instead of complaining is identify such women and the reasons behind their career sacrifice. However, on one hand, you have folks advocating the benefits of career-forsaking, educated, stay-at-home mums, and on the other we celebrate successful women who juggle both at the same time. We can’t even say for certain if having more stay-at-home mums than female CEOs is a good or bad thing for our country’s success. It’s fine either way for a woman, really; it’s socially acceptable if she gives up a high-flying job to look after the kids, but if a man does it he’s either lazy, unaspiring or henpecked by a power-hungry wife. So what DO women want, exactly?

In a recent global survey (Best and Worst Places to be a Woman), Singapore ranks as the 37th best country to be a Woman (whatever that means). Again you see the Scandinavians topping the charts, with Sweden, Finland and Norway taking 2nd, 5th and 7th spot respectively. We beat Malaysia (81) and India (141),  but surprisingly CHINA, with all its problems with infant sex selection, is a better country for women than Singapore(23rd). You’d also have to ask yourself why there isn’t a similar list for MEN (Perhaps any country with WOMEN is a good place to be a MAN)

Another local poll called the ‘Happiness Index’ conducted on 200 professionals found that men were happier at their jobs than women (46.08 vs 37.75%). It would be of interest to the SGX survey investigators if one were to determine what exactly these men were happy about, which could offer some clues to the ‘dismal’ showing by women. So, the jury is out as to why Singaporean women are losing out to men in leadership roles. The numbers above do hint of a deprivation of leadership opportunities, considering that more than half of Singaporean women are working, yet less than half are ‘happy’ with their jobs according to the Happiness Report. It’s a chicken and egg scenario, women could be unhappy thus not motivated to pursue higher roles , or they could be unhappy BECAUSE something is stopping them. But all this is mere speculation, and more studies should be conducted before we label ourselves a patriarchal nation stuck in the backwaters of gender equality with the ironic label of ‘nanny-state’.

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4 Responses

  1. […] Generation Singapore: Human Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility – Everything Also Complain: Only 6.9% of board members are women – Arra’s World: The Relaionship Issue: Stop Pointing Fingers At Singaporean […]

  2. Why is there an “issue” if women aren’t on boards? These are commercial decisions for companies. If they want to appoint fuddy duddy old men, that’s their problem; if they want to appoint powerful civil servants, that’s their problem too.

    Legislation, or even “encouragement”, for more “equal” gender representation would be highly misplaced. It basically amounts to interfering in commercial decisions of companies.

  3. Difficult to break the glass ceiling if you are a woman, unless you are a certain daughter-in-law of a certain royal family in this nation

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