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Govt will lead by example to ensure gender diversity: Chan Chun Sing

The government will lead by example in making sure that company boards are more diverse. Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said this on Friday after receiving a report from a government-initiated task force examining gender diversity on boards.

SINGAPORE: The government will lead by example in making sure that company boards are more diverse. Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said this on Friday after receiving a report from a government-initiated task force examining gender diversity on boards.

What began as a conversation over lunch between Mdm Halimah Yacob -- who was then Minister of State for Social and Family Development -- and Mrs Mildred Tan, managing director of accounting firm Ernst & Young, eventually led to the setting up of a Diversity Task Force.

The task force sparked off a year-long study, which has culminated in a report examining gender diversity on boards.

Mr Chan said: "Overall, the government will continue to support the work in two ways. On one hand, we'll provide the secretariat support for the work to continue.

"On the other, many of the government and statutory boards will be leading by example to ensure that our boards will be more diverse in terms of composition."

The report included ten recommendations to help increase female representation on boards and at senior management levels.

Recommendations by the task force include training programmes, getting companies to adopt a formal search and nomination process, and reviewing reasons if a shortlist of director candidates does not include women.

Mrs Tan, who is also the chairperson of the Diversity Task Force, said: "We are actually recommending that we have programmes -- be it training programmes, mentoring programmes, and sponsorship programmes -- for women to actually become board-ready. So I think these are some of the key, very practical initiatives that we've put forth."

Key findings of the report, released late last month, showed that women held just 8.3 per cent of directorships in SGX-listed companies as of April 2013 -- below the levels in countries such as Malaysia, China, and Britain.

If this proportion were to be increased to 20 per cent by 2020, the task force said that about 1,000 women would need to be trained and ready to take on board positions by then.

Mr Chan also announced on Friday that a Diversity Action Committee will be formed to look at implementing the recommendations. It will be chaired by Singapore Exchange CEO Magnus Bocker, with Mdm Yacob as an adviser to the committee.

To get more women on the boards of companies, the government said it does not want to start with legislation, or by enforcing quotas. The reason being that this sort of affirmative action could result in women being appointed to boards simply to fill the numbers.

Ms Tan added that women will want to be asked to sit on boards for their ability, and not as token representatives.

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