In the pursuit of gender parity on boards and in senior leadership, Singapore has made significant strides, as acknowledged by the Council for Board Diversity (CBD). However, the journey towards true equality faces challenges, especially in certain sectors where women’s representation remains inadequate.
Progress and Targets
As of the end of 2022, the top 100 primary-listed companies in Singapore had 21.5% of board seats held by women, surpassing the CBD’s expectations. By the end of 2025, the goal is to reach 25% representation on these boards and 30% on statutory boards and Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs). A notable achievement is the record-high 45% of women appointed to first-time company directorships, indicating rapid progress.
Stagnation in Senior Leadership
Despite these advancements, the analysis by Deloitte in 2022 reveals a stagnation in female representation in senior leadership positions, particularly in C-suite roles, hovering around 20% on average. For medium-sized and larger companies, the ratios of women to men in CEO and CFO roles are 2:8 and 4:17, respectively.
Gender Gap in STEM
The gender gap persists, notably in STEM fields, where only 37% of entry-level positions are held by women. LinkedIn’s Feon Ang emphasizes that women’s representation in C-level positions within STEM organizations is at a sluggish 14.5%. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report underscores the broader challenge, estimating 131 years to close the global gender gap.
The Impact of COVID-19
The progress in hiring women for leadership roles, which had been steadily increasing, faced a setback during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Women bore a more severe impact in the labor market shock, according to Feon Ang, who sits on the board at SkillsFuture.
The Value of Diversity
The CBD emphasizes that diverse boards act as catalysts for robust governance and better stewardship, fostering growth. Willis Towers Watson’s study, in collaboration with the Singapore Institute of Directors, stresses the importance of cognitive diversity, asserting that women’s voices bring unique perspectives crucial for effective decision-making.
Tokenism and Inclusivity
LinkedIn’s Ang warns against tokenism, highlighting its negative impact on inclusivity. Mere representation for optics or meeting quotas does not ensure the genuine integration of diverse voices. Shai Ganu of Willis Towers Watson emphasizes the need for genuine representation, recounting instances where token women on boards faced challenges in having their voices heard.
Despite progress, systemic biases against women persist, hindering full gender parity. Ganu identifies societal biases perpetuated within organizations and emphasizes the importance of addressing cognitive diversity to build effective boards.
Motherhood Penalty and Leadership Stereotypes
Feon Ang outlines common challenges, including the motherhood penalty, where women face slower career growth or lower salaries due to biases related to motherhood. LinkedIn’s Frank Koo notes the stereotype of leadership styles, where decisive women may be labeled as abrasive or bossy.
Societal Biases and Excuses
Ganu and Ang argue that societal biases and ill-founded excuses, such as a purported lack of women with leadership talent, hinder progress. They stress the need for organizations to view themselves as stewards and prioritize diversity.
Confidence Gap and Competence
Roshni Mahtani Cheung highlights a recurring theme – a confidence gap that overshadows women’s competence. Studies indicate that women’s low self-confidence hampers their progress, while men’s high self-esteem boosts their success. This lack of confidence, Cheung argues, is a significant barrier for women.
Rajeev Peshawaria challenges the notion of a confidence gap, asserting that women can be better leaders if they have the desire. Leadership, according to Peshawaria, requires tough love, and women excel at balancing toughness and empathy.
Overconfidence and Hiring Disparities
Ganu reveals a concerning trend of overconfidence among men, illustrated by their disproportionate application for roles they are underqualified for. Women, on the other hand, often refrain from applying even when qualified, citing a lack of a couple of requirements.
Breaking Down Limiting Mindsets
To achieve full gender parity, there is a need to address limiting mindsets, both systemic and individual. Educating senior leaders, challenging biases, fostering a purpose-driven approach, and encouraging women to assert their achievements are essential steps.
In conclusion, achieving full gender parity requires a multifaceted approach, tackling systemic biases, fostering genuine diversity, and empowering women to overcome confidence gaps. Singapore’s progress is commendable, but sustained efforts are crucial for realizing true equality on boards and in senior leadership roles.