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A recent global study revealed that 15% of firms in Singapore are led by female CEOs, however, some Singapore women’s groups commented that the tiny state should be doing far better given the number of well-educated, highly competent women in the country.

The study, CS Gender 3000, was carried out by the Credit Suisse Research Institute and the report and published by financial services giant Credit Suisse on Friday (Oct 11).

The recently concluded research looked at the state of gender equality in companies and involved more than 3,000 companies across 56 countries as well as 30,000 executive positions.

Singapore ranked 4th in terms of women in the position of chief financial officer, at 28% behind Thailand at 42%, Taiwan at 30% and Malaysia at 29%.

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The study found that Singapore’s boardroom diversity has improved remarkably since 2015, with the proportion of women on boards improving from 10.8% to 18.4% this year. In terms of overall gender diversity in management, Singapore came in 6th at 23%.

Major shift in societal attitudes needed

Ms Margaret Thomas, president of Singapore women’s rights group Aware, said that the 15% implies that there is still much room for improvement. “In terms of competence, there is no good reason why there should not be many more women CEOs in Singapore,” she said.

Ms Junie Foo, first vice-president of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations and chair of BoardAgender, agreed: “We are not surprised that Singapore is topping this list. n fact, we are surprised that it is not higher as we have educated, competent, extremely capable women.”

Ms Thomas noted that Singapore boards were 18.4% female, below the global average of 20.6%. “This could be a reason why we don’t have an even higher proportion of women CEOs. Male-dominated boards might be inclined to look for male CEOs.”

When asked about how the situation could be improved, she said: “There could well be many more women in the top management positions if, especially early in their careers, they had more access to flexible work arrangements and other support for childcare and eldercare needs.”

Ms Thomas added that women are still expected to shoulder the bulk of the burden of caregiving, which could slow down their opportunities for career development.

“We need a major shift in societal attitudes, and much clearer government policies and schemes to get employers to adopt flexible work arrangements — both for men and women.”

The world needs ‘responsible business practices’

In a survey of 120 family-owned companies, it was found that a greater share of female executives correlated with a greater focus on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, on environmental, social and governance issues.

Ms Thomas said that boosting female representation to achieve these outcomes is particularly important. “This is what the world desperately needs now — responsible business practices. The unfettered pursuit of profits cannot go on. We need businesses to be paying much more attention to the environment and other implications,” she underscored.

“The benefits of having more women in top management positions and on boards are clear — the company enjoys stronger growth, higher margins, and better share price performance. Plus, there is that very important matter of responsible, sustainable business practices. We really need more women running businesses, not just in Singapore but throughout the world.”

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