News: Progress for Women in Singapore? Boardrooms up, CEO seats down


Progress for Women in Singapore? Boardrooms up, CEO seats down

Singapore is making progress towards gender equality in the boardroom, but it still trails global averages. While women representation is rising in the country, the number of female CEOs has surprisingly gone down. What could be the problem?
Progress for Women in Singapore? Boardrooms up, CEO seats down

More women are joining Singapore’s boardrooms, with at least 20.8% occupying board seats in 2023, a Deloitte global study reported. The number represents a 3.2% increase from 2021, showing steady progress in the realm of diversity and inclusion. 

Singapore’s women representation in leadership positions is well ahead of the averages in Asia-Pacific’s 14.8% and Southeast Asia’s 19.9%. Still, it continues to lag the global women leadership representation of 23.3%. 

Despite the incredible progress Southeast Asia in general is making, the percentage of women CEOs in Singapore dropped to 11.9% in 2023 from 13.1% in 2021. Singapore is the only country in Southeast Asia that did not have an increase in women CEOs. 

“While this progress is inspiring, the drop in the percentage of women chief executive officers reminds us that the journey toward transformation is hard-fought and ongoing,” said Seah Gek Choo, leader of Deloitte Southeast Asia and Singapore’s Boardroom Program.

“The Code of Corporate Governance and other regulatory efforts in Singapore may have enabled companies to embrace greater diversity on boards, but for organisations to achieve parity, a shift toward prioritising leadership diversity both within and outside the boardroom will need to take place,” she added.

Industries in Singapore that tallied the highest number of women on board seats include technology, telecommunications, media, financial services, consumer goods, manufacturing, and energy and resources.

The study by Deloitte included surveys of over 206,000 directorships in 18,085 companies scattered across 15 countries, including Singapore and major Southeast Asian economies. 

READ MORE | The business case for advancing women leaders

Women leadership in Southeast Asia

Malaysia has taken the lead in women boardroom representation with 28.5% of board seats occupied by female leaders. While the numbers are impressive, it still lags the 30% quota set by the Malaysian government under the Malaysian Code on Corporate Governance.

The Philippines ranked second in women boardroom representation in the region with 21.7%, followed by Singapore with 20.8%, Thailand with 19%, Hong Kong with 17%, Taiwan with 12.1%, and Indonesia with 9.7%. 

Generally speaking, Southeast Asia has a slow but upward trend in the quest for gender parity in leadership roles. 

“While many countries in the region do not have legal requirements or quotas for the number of women on boards, this upward trend indicates a growing recognition of the positive impact of gender diversity in the boardroom, which is especially important as organisations respond to new and evolving business challenges,” said Choo. 

A global snapshot of gender parity

With the world’s current progress and pace in diversity, Deloitte projected that full gender parity may only happen at a latter time. If the study’s estimates are correct, the world will experience full gender parity by 2038 at best. 

The report also cited the lack of a clear path for women towards the board chair roles, a crucial factor if we want more women CEOs in the future. As of the moment, the number of women serving as board chair around the world is only at 8.4%, up from 6.7% in 2021.

“The numbers are low even in countries with gender quotas. For example, while Norway and France, which were among the first governments to introduce quota legislation (in 2005 and 2010, respectively) are both now approaching parity in the boardroom, fewer than 13% of these women directors have ascended to the chair role,” the Deloitte study noted.

READ MORE | Still a man's world? How to fight for equity and equality

Is external pressure needed to push the pace for gender parity?

Deloitte’s recent study only shows that tears of pushing for gender parity without regulatory mandates are ineffective, according to the independent director of the Bank of Montreal’s Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.

According to Jan Babiak, a globally experienced woman leader, companies have found out throughout the years that there’s no credible explanation for not having more women onboard leadership roles because of the quality of talent available. 

“But, to the global statistics, if you’ve got 50-plus countries that don’t show similar improvements, then I’m afraid the only proven mechanism to drive this is outside pressure from regulators, investors, or other influential stakeholders. Otherwise, the vested interest of the status quo will continue to prevail,” she said. 

Babiak’s insights have solid grounding. In fact, Deloitte’s study found that five of the top six countries with the highest percentage of women serving on boards have some semblance of mandatory quota legislation. 

In the United Kingdom alone, women now hold at least 40% of board seats after continued government initiatives from 2011 to 2015. 

Similar efforts in Australia, through voluntary targets and disclosures have also moved the needle—women’s representation on Australian boards has more than doubled since 2014 (15% to 34%),” the report added. 

Besides the government, crucial to gender parity goals are investors as Deloitte’s study found that UK and US institutional investors had a voting policy that set a target for gender diversity. 

This policy has translated well in the UK where the appointment rate for women on FTSE100 boards stood at 47% in 2023, up from just 30% in 2017. In the United States, across the Russell 3000, 38% of newly joining board members were women.

The world’s progress has made in promoting women in leadership roles is commendable. However, Deloitte's study spotlights an important reality: true gender parity requires more than just awareness.  

The most successful countries in achieving boardroom balance often have regulatory measures in place. It’s clear that a combination of government initiatives, investor pressure, and a shift in corporate culture are crucial to accelerating the pace of change and creating a future where women hold an equal share of leadership positions.

“With women currently still underrepresented on company boards globally, that step-change in momentum will require organisations and investors to do more to realise the benefits that diverse boards can bring,” said Anna Marks, Deloitte Global Chair.

Read full story

Topics: Diversity

Did you find this story helpful?



How do you envision AI transforming your work?

Your opinion matters: Tell us how we're doing this quarter!

Selected Score :