The year 2021 is the year of celebrating Singapore women. So, it’s fitting that in Bloomberg’s 2021 Gender Equality Index, six Singapore companies – City Developments Limited, Singapore Exchange (SGX), DBS, UOB, SingTel and Genting Singapore – made the list. We chatted with DBS Group’s chief operating officer, group human resources Ng Ying Yuan and SGX CEO Loh Boon Chye on the organisation’s efforts in gender equality and what more needs to be done.
What are the gender inclusion efforts that SGX has put in place in the last 5 years?
SGX has been advocating for Women on Boards (WOB) in Singapore since August 2014. In that year, a diversity task force completed a study on the state of gender diversity in the boardroom and senior management in Singapore companies. It found that there was low awareness about the importance and benefits of gender diversity on boards, and little was being done by companies to improve the situation.
This led to the establishment of the Diversity Action Committee (DAC), chaired by the then-CEO of SGX, in 2014 to encourage a sustained increase in WOB of listed companies. DAC involved many stakeholders in the ecosystem – important decision makers, women, regulators, advisers to boards and media – and provided data-driven reports. DAC also recommended specific, clear and measurable disclosures on diversity, limits on tenure, and improved processes for board appointments.
In 2019, the DAC became the Council for Board Diversity (CBD) with an expanded mandate to promote a sustained increase in the number of women on boards in statutory boards and charities as well. As part of our efforts to enhance board composition and diversity, we put in place rules that provide issuers with the opportunity for board renewal and to introduce greater diversity, including gender. ₁(see bottom of article)
We have made commendable progress in board gender diversity. The percentage of women on boards in Singapore’s top 100 companies increased from 7.5% before 2014 to close to 17% in 2020. However, more can and needs to be done.
SGX aims to lead by example with women directors occupying 30% of the SGX board. This is higher than CBD’s first-tier target of 20% and one of the highest in the financial sector among the top 100 Singapore-listed companies.
We embrace and advocate gender diversity and equality. We hire based on merit, practising “equal pay for equal work”. Our talent strategy emphasises equal opportunity – this allows us to leverage our gender, age, and cultural diversity to drive growth and maximise potential.
How have these efforts improved SGX’s productivity and bottom line?
Having diversity in leadership is good for business. A recent study by the CBD, comprising secondary research of academic studies published before the pandemic, found that board diversity is essential to the business sustainability and resilience of a company.
A diverse board brings in different perspectives that contribute to more thorough discussion and robust decision-making. The ongoing pandemic has shown that diversity is more critical now than before. Boards and leaders must go beyond just financial considerations and use ESG (environmental, social, governance) to create value for stakeholders. Women, being a visible aspect of diversity, are important in the diversity equation. A hallmark of a progressive, well-managed board is having women.
Within SGX, we believe that diversity widens the depth and breadth of our collective skills and perspectives, which drive innovation and lead to better performance. Cultivating a diverse environment that encourages innovation is thus a priority at SGX. We are also building a stronger culture of mentorship and collaboration within the organisation.
How do you think diversity has improved in Singapore?
The recently released 2021 Grant Thornton report showed that the proportion of women in senior management in Singapore stood at 33%, higher than the global proportion of 31%, which is comparable to the UK and US. The proportion of women in senior management is a good proxy for the pipeline of candidates with the qualities to become board directors. Their experience in making high-level decisions and interacting with boards puts them in an excellent position to take the next step onto the board.
What do you think men can do to fight for gender equality and equity?
It is integral that both male and female colleagues at the senior management and board levels attempt to set the direction for the company and drive greater gender representation. Too often, gender equality is cast as a matter where action needs to be taken by females, but it is critical that we include men as part of the equation.
Men can challenge the status quo that disadvantages women in some situations and actively promote the importance of gender equity. It is not a matter of social justice, but as a means for Singapore organisations to better seek and harness the talent available. To exclude half the population is not doing ourselves justice. I would like to encourage my male colleagues to continue to take on an active role in growing this culture of inclusivity and diversity by showing solidarity with our female colleagues and being a potent ally in the workplace.
How is DBS embracing gender diversity in its ethos?
At DBS, we believe that embracing diversity and inclusion is important to enable us to attract the best people, access a greater range of talent, and build more cohesive teams to produce quality results and impactful outcomes for our business, customers, and communities. That is why we are committed to building a diverse and inclusive workforce through deliberately designed learning and culture-building programmes.
We run several pivotal internal programmes across the bank to help create a more gender-equal workplace. These include “EmpowHer”, an exclusive learning path for female colleagues in technical roles that helps them in crafting and planning their career progression, and “My Persona, Woman 3.0”, which supports women in building relevant skills to lead and influence others. We launched a bank-wide programme on Unconscious Bias last year, to help employees be more aware of instances when they may unintentionally discriminate against others.
We also redoubled our efforts to bring in more female talent into our technology workforce, an area where women continue to be under-represented globally. For instance, in Oct 2020, DBS hosted our first-ever women-focused fully virtual career fair for technologists in SingaporE. Dubbed ‘DBS Women in Technology’, the event offered over 50 job opportunities across 11 technology roles, including data engineers, scrum masters, full-stack developers, solution architects, and site reliability engineers.
In 2019, we launched Hack2Hire-Her, a curated outreach programme targeting female technology talent complementing the bank’s annual Hack2Hire hackathon. As a result, the proportion of applications from women rose to over 30%, as compared to 5% in previous years, and the number of offers made to women also increased about five times.
On the policy front, DBS offers flexible work arrangements, such as maternity leave and paternity leave, for many years now to support our female employees manage their commitments outside of work, even as they build their careers with us. But we are looking to do more. For instance, we have implemented a formal job sharing scheme, in which two employees split one full-time job. This could appeal to talent who are keen to work, but not necessarily on a full-time basis because of their personal or family commitments.
Are there gender equality targets in place that DBS would like to reach?
At DBS, women comprise just over 50% of our workforce and 40% of our senior management, which refers to our senior vice presidents and above. Women also run some of our largest businesses and critical functions across the bank. These numbers have remained fairly stable over the years. For us, it is important to create an environment that is conducive to a more gender-equal workplace. This includes initiatives to build pipelines of female talent, strengthen awareness on gender diversity, and create more supportive policies and frameworks.
How does it feel to be recognised in Bloomberg’s 2021 Gender Equality Index?
To be named to the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index for the fourth year running is an affirmation of our diversity efforts, but to be the only ASEAN company included in the top global quartile is truly a milestone. This attests to our firm commitment to advancing parity across DBS, and our efforts in building a respectful and inclusive workplace that embraces gender, generational and cultural diversity.
What do you think men can do to fight for gender equality and equity?
To make meaningful progress in achieving gender equality, we believe it is important to enable everyone, regardless of gender or level, to play their part in small or big ways. That is why we launched Project EquAlly last year on International Women’s Day to enlist allies to help drive the gender diversity agenda in technology, where women continue to be under-represented globally. We have since enlisted over 130 allies, and this is creating a chain reaction across the bank, not just the technology teams, in terms of participation in our gender diversity activities.
A note on SGX’s new rules on board renewal for listed companies
From 1 January 2022, the rules on the nine-year tenure for independent directors and the requirement for independent directors to comprise one-third of the board will come into effect. SGX-listed companies have to replace their independent directors who have hit the nine-year mark unless the independence of those directors is approved by a two-tier voting process of (1) all shareholders and (2) shareholders excluding the CEO, directors and their associates. Companies must also disclose their board diversity policy and progress made.
In addition, SGX RegCo has codified the rules to make it mandatory for the Nominating Committee to have a formal and transparent process to appoint directors, considering the need for progressive renewal of the board. Issuers must have all directors submit themselves for re-appointment at least once every three years.