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Sat, Dec 31, 2011
The New Paper
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Main factor holding female execs back is family: Experts
by Benita Aw Yeong

Women like Ms Kathleen Tan - who fill the top posts of their companies - are rare, if numbers by a report to track gender diversity in SGX-listed boardrooms are anything to go by.

Just 6.9 per cent of board members of companies listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) are women, according to a collaborative report between Board Agender, an outreach arm of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations, and the National University of Singapore (NUS) Centre for Governance, Institutions and Organization.

This trend is not unique to Singapore.

The New York Times recently quoted a global consulting firm McKinsey, which found that companies with a greater number of women in top positions made operational profits that were 56 per cent higher than other companies.

In addition, boards with more women surpass all-male boards in auditing, risk oversight and control.

In Singapore, the percentage of women in boardrooms is 6.9 per cent.

In the European Union, it is 10 per cent.

In Hong Kong, 8.6 per cent of the board directors are women, and in China the figure is 8.1 per cent.

In Malaysia, the figure stands at 7.8 per cent.

Only the Nordic countries have made waves in this area: Norway topped the list at 40 per cent, while Sweden had 27.5 per cent, and Finland, 24.5 per cent.

Experts say that the main factor holding women back is their tendency to leave their roles after a shorter period of time and to leave the office earlier than their male counterparts to tend to the family.

A separate study on gender diversity in Asia compiled by non-profit organisation Community Business revealed that women in six Asian countries - including Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore - struggled immensely, especially within a cultural environment that expects wives and mothers to take a central role in managing the home.

One respondent in the study was quoted as saying: "I cannot stay away from home for 180 to 200 days a year, which I observe as typical of senior executives here.

"Being an Asian wife and mother who does most of the childcare, there are expectations from my husband and children."


Member of Parliament for West Coast GRC Foo Mee Har raised the same issue in her maiden speech in Parliament earlier this year, when she urged the Government to increase formal structures and programmes to support women at the workplace.

She said: "(Women) need ready access to child and elder care services, they need their husbands as joint partners in raising their families, and they also need employers and government to adopt family-friendly policies.

"We still have some way to go in providing these," she said.

NUS sociology professor Jean Yeung agreed, but added that gender inequality is not confined to the workplace.

"It will take a very conscious effort for administrators to make an improvement. Personally, I see very slow improvement," she said.

Traditional but persistent gender roles and stereotypes that expect women to put family first impose a glass ceiling of their own.

One woman interviewed for the gender diversity for Asia report said: "Positioning within the organisation is tough… It is a male dominated society. No one likes to see women progress in their careers.

"I feel I am hated because I am not following the norms, trying to swim against the tide."


This article was first published in The New Paper.


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