The representation of women on corporate boards continues to increase, but the number of women leading boards still remains low globally. Overall, women now hold 12 percent of seats worldwide with only 4 percent chairing boards, according to the fourth edition of the "Women in the Boardroom: A Global Perspective," report by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (Deloitte Global).
The report outlines the efforts of 49 countries to increase the number of women occupying board seats. European countries continue to lead on gender diversity in the boardroom, with Norway, France, Sweden and Italy all ranking high. Regionally, countries in the Americas and Asia Pacific region have progressed the least. According to the report the regional breakdown of women chairs is: EMEA (5 percent), the Americas (4 percent) and Asia-Pacific (4 percent).
Dan Konigsburg, Deloitte Global Managing Director of the Deloitte Center for Corporate Governance, comments: “We’ve seen a welcome increase in women on boards; however the number of women securing the top spot remains elusive even in the most progressive countries. Of course, in many countries, the chair is an executive position, but this absence of women among chairs is revealing. For example, Denmark has the sixth-highest number of women on its boards, yet ranks bottom— our study didn’t identify a single board in Denmark that had a women chair. This is not the only country where this is the case.”
“The global statistics mask important differences within countries. For example, Scandinavian countries have successful policies that make it easier for women to serve on boards, compared with the Asia-Pacific region which has been slow to implement such policies. So, it’s clear that more can be done. We actively encourage increased collaborative effort from organizations, governments and policy-makers; it is the only way we will begin to see results,” said Konigsburg.
Zooming in on Southeast Asia, the survey reported statistics from the bigger economies in the region – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
“In Southeast Asia, the percentage of board seats held by women does not cross the 10 percent mark for each country, which is way behind the European economies with Norway topping at 36.7 percent. The likely contributors to this are the traditional barriers that women have to overcome and insufficient family support,” said David Chew, Head of Deloitte Southeast Asia’s Centre of Corporate Governance.
For Singapore specifically, there are currently no gender quotas for women on boards or in senior management position. According to the research, 9 percent of board seats in Singapore are held by women, and woman board chairmen make up 7 percent. The Energy & Resources Industry sees most women on its boards (14%) and women usually hold positions in the boards’ audit committees.
These figures almost mirror those reported in a Deloitte-partnered survey conducted last year, which reported that men take up 91.7% of all board seats in Singapore, leaving 8.3% which are taken by women. In addition, only 5.9% of Independent Director seats are held by women, with more than half of all boards (56.1%) do not have any women.
“Board appointments should be by meritocracy, where an individual’s capability and fitness to serve on the board is the primary focus, irrespective of gender. However, there should be more platforms and opportunities for corporations to be exposed to these women candidates and not exclude them from the selection process in order for leasers of the highest caliber to be represented on boards,” said Seah Gek Choo, Assurance & Advisory partner, Deloitte Singapore.
“There are generally two schools of thought to promote gender diversity – one involves affirmative actions in the form of regulations and the other leaves it to market forces or natural course of events. While it appears that regulators tend to favour a ‘light touch’ approach, it would probably be more effective to let companies identify and recognise the value that such diversity could bring to their business, on a case by case basis,” said Chew.
“The percentages in Southeast Asia, although very much lower than the other more mature world economies are only for listed entities. Privately held companies have a higher percentage of women at decision-making roles and boards. As these companies grow to become listed entities and the evolution of societal norms, we can expect to see more women playing an active role at the senior management and board levels.”