What Corporate Leaders Say

Views on board diversity and resilience

From Board Chairmen

Read the key takeaways from the Panel Discussion with

  • Peter Seah (Chairman, DBS Group and Singapore Airlines) and
  • S.S. Teo (Executive Chairman and Managing Director, Pacific International Lines)

Views on Board Diversity

From perspective of companies, investors and advisers

Read the summary of the Panel Discussion with Piyush Gupta (CEO, DBS Group), Min Lan Tan (APAC Head of Chief Investment Office, UBS Global Wealth Management) and Diaan-Yi Lin (Senior Partner, Singapore, McKinsey & Company) here.

Shared Wisdom

From Chairmen and Investors

Chairmen of leading Singapore companies with diverse boards are united in their view that gender‑diverse boards are simply better governed.

Madam Halimah Yacob

President, Republic of Singapore

(quote provided during her term as Speaker of Parliament and Adviser to Diversity Action Committee)

“The benefits of having more women directors on boards are well known and yet we have not fully harnessed this potential in Singapore companies. I am glad that DAC discussed the underlying reasons for low women’s representation on boards in a straightforward manner. I believe that all companies want to be as good as they can be, and board diversity with the best suited directors would add new perspectives and dynamics to the companies. I urge companies to embrace the recommendations from DAC. It’s time for our companies to think ahead and raise board diversity to where global companies want to be.”

Loh Boon Chye

Chairman, Diversity Action Committee
CEO, Singapore Exchange

“As a director on several boards, I recognise and appreciate the benefits of a board with highly experienced and diverse talents. Knowing that different perspectives are discussed and debated at the board level gives employees and shareholders the confidence that all decisions are made with due consideration. While gender is only one aspect of board diversity, women on boards not only deliver richer insights but also enable companies to tap on a wider pool of capable directors. Singapore needs to address the under-representation of women on boards of its corporates urgently. Amidst the increasing attention on board diversity and women on boards, the Diversity Action Committee hopes to create a momentum of change and calls on all companies and stakeholders to do their part in enriching our local board culture and composition.”

Peter T. Grauer

Chairman, Bloomberg LP

“Lack of (board) diversity can no longer be gotten away with by citing a lack of ‘supply’. We must recognize that it is clearly a matter of demand – and that precedent-setting demand must come from the very top of companies.”

Simon Israel

Chairman, Singtel and SingPost

“Board diversity is an important contributor to Board effectiveness and high performing Boards. While gender diversity is only one dimension of diversity, it is an important one and and is a hallmark of progressive Boards.”

Peter Seah

Chairman, DBS Bank and Singapore Airlines

 

“You will see richer dialogue and discussion with women on boards. Because of our good experience, we now always insist that we have women on our Board.”

Euleen Goh

Chairman, SATS Ltd
Non-Executive Director, DBS Group
Independent Director, CapitaLand and Royal Dutch Shell plc

“Too many times the thinking is: ‘We know what’s out there, we know who’s out there. We’ll just appoint the people we know’ rather than ‘let’s take a meaningful look at the wider pool of people and try to bring much more diversity to the board’.”

Stephen Lee

Chairman, Singapore Airlines (2004 – 2016)

“We have had gender diversity for many years. This is important, especially for a customer-facing industry like ours, where we serve a large number of female customers.”

Christina Ong and Teo Swee Lian

Directors, Singtel

“Some may think there are companies in certain industries that women may be less suited for – say, engineering. But companies in different industries can be as gender-diverse as they want to be.”

Serge Pun

Chairman, Yoma Strategic Holdings Ltd

“I’m hoping to find more people who have a view of their own instead of all being ‘yes men’ who will just agree with me. That would defeat the whole purpose of having a board. I might as well make all the decisions myself.”

Wong Su-Yen

Independent Director, Yoma Strategic Holdings Ltd

“Every chairman knows that they didn’t start out being on a board with board experience. Everyone had to start somewhere.”

Sumitri Menon

Chairman, Micro-Mechanics (Holdings) Ltd

“Many people argue against quotas, saying they bring tokenism – that a woman is appointed simply because we need to have a woman. But I don’t think that is going to happen, because there are many qualified women and if you are forced to take a woman on your board, you will find the best qualified women.”

Piyush Gupta

Chief Executive Officer, DBS Group

“Having diversity on the board helps avoid groupthink, and results in wider views and opinions, as well as richer dialogue, that translate into better strategies and decisions. Boards that strive for effectiveness and embrace diversity as a mechanism to deliver effectively are likely to perform better than other boards.”

Min Lan Tan

Head of APAC Investment Office, UBS Global Wealth Management

“For shareholders and owners of companies, the report Gender Diversity Matters by UBS pointed out that gender-diverse companies – those with women in at least 20% of senior leadership positions – were more profitable than their less gender-diverse peers. The same study also showed that from 2011 to 2017, a UBS gender-focused portfolio of companies beat the MSCI World Index by an average of 1.6% a year. While this does not necessarily imply causation, gender diversity is to us a proxy of well-run companies with good corporate governance.”

Tham Sai Choy

First Vice-Chairman, Singapore Institute of Directors
Former Managing Partner, KPMG Singapore & Chairman, KPMG Asia Pac

“Even as we debate the business case for board diversity, it is clear that at the minimum there is already a valid question for each board to consider – how to meet the need of investors to understand the company’s approach to the issue. Simply ignoring the question will not inspire investor confidence. Respecting investors’ valid needs for information will require well thought-through communications on how the company deals with board diversity, now and in the future, to secure sustainable success.”

Diaan-Yi Lin

Senior Partner, Singapore, McKinsey & Co

“Women’s representation in leadership and leadership roles, especially on corporate boards, matters a great deal. Research shows that the presence of three or more women on boards is positively correlated with stronger organizational health; better decision making, corporate governance, and financial performance; greater diversity of thought; a closer match between companies and customers; and a broader base of leadership and talent. Increasing the number and percentage of women on corporate boards is not only equitable; it is also an effective approach to strengthen companies and national economies, by enabling them to tap into the best available people across entire talent pools.”

Janet Ang

Vice President, Industry Solutions and Smarter Cities, IBM Asia Pacific

“ “Women lift up half the sky.” We are however, under-represented in the executive board rooms with only about 29% of the senior management positions being filled by women, and only about 15% on the boards of top 100 SGX-listed companies are women. It is hence even more important that women executives lend their voices and add to the diversity of the conversations and debates around policies and industry standards so that the outcomes can be more holistic and relevant to all. I believe that all of us, women executives, who have the opportunity to be of an influence, have the responsibility to give back to society by contributing our professional expertise and leadership whether in enhancing education, in “partnering the poor” or championing diversity and transformation.”

Claire Chiang

Senior Vice President, Banyan Tree Holdings Ltd

“Women’s perspective on any issue adds another layer of understanding on life dynamics. We want different things and what we recommend as strategy and solution provides a validation check on prevailing biases and assumptions. Changing the way we work by introducing more work flexibility is about giving options to women and men who want better choices in work-life integration. Therefore, having women on boards bring to the top table diversity of viewpoints and resolutions that share power and strengthen the company.”

Teo Siong Seng

Chairman, Singapore Business Federation

“Companies today face numerous challenges: rapidly evolving competitive and regulatory landscapes, changing customers’ demand, rapid technological changes, narrowing talent pool and others. It makes business sense to infuse new and relevant perspectives and capabilities regularly at the boardroom to equip companies to better meet these challenges. As an organisation is only as strong as its leadership, I encourage my fellow business leaders to make a conscious effort in incorporating gender diversity at the board level when looking at succession planning. It is our responsibility to set the right building blocks for leadership as this is in the best interest for our companies.”

Lee Suet Fern

Managing Partner, Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC

“The business case to include more women on boards is a powerful one. Women represent a seriously under fished pool of talent. To ignore them is to risk overlooking qualified candidates in a talent-scarce market and to miss the chance to enhance the diversity of voices and views that would make for better corporate governance, more dynamic boards and more business-facing companies.” (extracted from NUS Singapore Board Diversity Report 2012)

Willie Cheng

Chairman, Singapore Institute of Directors

“Diversity is important for an effective board because it reduces groupthink and uncritical conformity. Diversity is more than about gender. However, gender diversity is a significant issue as women are clearly and significantly underrepresented on Singapore boards. The problem lies on both the supply and demand side of the equation. Therefore, the solution needs to address both aspects. One SID’s part, we are stepping up to help increase the pool of board-ready women candidates, to educate boards on the need and means for gender diversity, and to facilitate the appointment of women on boards.”

Late Mr Magnus Bocker

Honorary Chairman, Securities Investors Association (Singapore) (SIAS)
Former Chairman, Diversity Action Committee (2014-2016)

“Today’s boards are a lot more engaged, and the boardroom requires more varied, skills and experience to bring the company forward. Bringing the best talents, fresh and diverse perspectives to the boardroom is no longer an option but a conscious effort made by a far-sighted company. I hope that all SGX-listed companies will take positive steps to rebalance their board capabilities and extend beyond their existing networks to where there are new skillsets, to recruit the most qualified men and women into the boardroom. This will support a sustained growth for the company in the long run.”

Cheng Woei Fen

Executive Chairman, Mun Siong Engineering Ltd

“Gender diversity is generally associated with increased sales revenue, more customers, and greater relative profits. It is beneficial for business, including but not limited to corporate profits and earnings. Women in Singapore are equally well educated and talented, they play a significant role in improving the company’s external image as well as to increases creativity for the business.”

Philip Ng

Chief Executive Officer, Far East Organization

“Values are the rock of foundation for an enduring enterprise. It is important that we seek leaders with the right values, and who are able to operate in the dimensions of vision, reality, ethics, and courage, regardless of gender. I recommend fellow board chairmen and business owners to consider the best talent possibilities, so as to bring on board stewards who will grow the enterprise assets entrusted to their care. The diversity of views, skills and experience will enrich discussions and add value to our companies and customers.”

Ciliandra Fangiono

Chief Executive Officer, First Resources Ltd

“I often hear concerns that diversity in the boardrooms and recruiting directors outside of one’s private circle of friends can be counter-productive and damaging to the cohesion of the board. In my experience, the opposite is true for an effective board. I appreciate members on my board, men and women, who bring their professionalism and critical thinking to the table. Their open and constructive debate, mutual respect and a willingness to break with convention help the board as a whole to make robust decisions.”

Tang Kin Fei

Former Group President and CEO, Sembcorp Industries Ltd

“Diverse boards offer a depth and breadth of insight and perspective that less diverse boards cannot. A diverse board is knowledgeable on and sensitive to a wider variety of issues and stakeholders, and allows for healthy debate that can lead to better decision-making. Having leaders at the top with a variety of backgrounds can also make companies more adaptable to a diverse, ever-changing world.”

Teo Swee Lian

Independent Director, Singapore Telecommunications Limited

“Every Board strives to steer the company towards better strategies and directions. Being able to take into consideration as wide a range of perspectives as possible is key in helping to identify these better decisions and avoid the risk of being blind-sided. Board diversity in terms of expertise, background or gender provides this opportunity for richer and more textured deliberations.”