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Female leadership in Singapore

Studies have shown that women possess leadership styles that are more inclusive, open, collaborative and collegial than men. And yet, as of June 2014, only 24 of the FORTUNE 500 companies were run by women.

The extensive research on female leadership in organisations shows that female leaders outshine men in several distinctive qualities that are essential in tackling the problems of the 21st century.

However, gender parity remains an issue at the highest levels. Why does this paradox exist? What is being done and what more can be done? Read on to discover more.

Reasons for the lack of female leadership

In Singapore, women hold 21% of senior management roles in corporations, a statistic which is on par with the international average. However, only 8% of corporate board members are women. This is far behind most developed economies where about 15-20% of board members are women. According to the “Gender Diversity on Boards” report published by the Diversity Task Force in Singapore, female representation on SGX-listed companies in the country is low due to the following reasons:

  • low awareness about the importance and benefits of gender diversity on boards
  • some boards may not be comfortable recruiting directors not known to them or who may hold certain views on gender roles in family and business
  • lack of use of a formal search and nomination process for board directors/ heavy reliance on personal networks
  • women lack the expected experience in traditionally male-dominated industries or functions
  • women are uncertain how their skill sets fit the needs of the boards and are shy in putting themselves forward
  • female professionals lack awareness on the qualifications/ requirements/ process when nominating directors
  • general perception that the pool of female talent is limited

In addition to the above-mentioned reasons, most of the discrimination that hinders the hiring of female board members is subconscious. While employers may not explicitly intend to exclude women from such positions, their perceived notion of a woman’s child-bearing or primary family care-giver responsibilities prevents them from considering women for corporate leadership roles.

This mindset is highly evident in Asia. McKinsey’s 2012 ‘Women Matter: An Asian Perspective’’ report revealed that 70% of Asian executives did not see gender diversity as a strategic priority. In contrast, this figure was 47% in Europe. Hence, a mindset shift is required at management levels especially in Asian societies.

Inspiring action

Singapore’s Diversity Action Committee (DAC) was formed in August 2014 with the aim to build up the representation of women directors on boards of companies. Adopting a multi-stakeholder approach, the Committee raises awareness on the importance and benefits of gender diversity on boards and engages the business community to inspire the relevant stakeholders toward appointing women board directors.

In Singapore, women hold 21% of senior management roles in corporations, a statistic which is on par with the international average.

On January 15 this year, DAC launched the Statement of Good Practice in Executive Search. This initiative sets out a comprehensive process for the formal search and nomination process for board appointments. Together with ten other executive search firms, Robert Walters signed this statement and pledged to support greater boardroom diversity in Singapore. We are doing our part by tapping into our extensive pool of clients and candidates and referring potential female directors to both mainboard-listed and catalyst-listed (newly start up) companies to be considered for board representation.

In addition to referrals, the DAC suggests several other strategies that would nurture a corporate culture that embraces female board representation. These include hiring a designated executive or forming an action committee to:

  • facilitate mentorship programmes and network-building opportunities for female candidates who are being considered for senior management or board positions
  • drive company-wide gender diversity awareness initiatives
  • implement initiatives to attract female ex-employees holding management positions back to work

In order to track the results and progress of these strategies, companies should administer gender diversity policies and track gender representation rates at different levels of seniority regularly. This will ensure that the organisation is actively promoting the diversity imperative.

Given women’s more collegial approach to problem solving, organisations should actively promote female leadership as a key imperative in tackling the increasingly complex problems of today. According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report 2014, a diverse workforce is an organisation’s “lifeblood” and embracing diverse perspectives is the only way companies can equip themselves to tackle the challenges of today.

Next steps

If you are a senior female professional with experience working in MNCs based in Singapore, and are keen to find out more about such board-level appointments, please email singapore@robertwalters.com.sg 

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