Minister of Community, Culture and Youth wants more female board members

“This is not about giving preferential treatment to a specific gender”, says MCCY chief Grace Fu, as she unveils her new initiative advocating for at least 20% of female directors to be on company boards by 2020.

Unofficially titled the “20-20 Target”, the scheme is “making recommendations jointly to the Monetary Association of Singapore (MAS) to push for greater gender diversity in boards”, according to a report by The Straits Times.

While women’s representation across the SGX listed companies has increased to 9.7% compared to 9.1% in 2016, Ms Fu clearly thinks more could be done.

Other proposals include making it compulsory for the MAS to “comply or explain disclosure policy in board diversity”, and mandating it in the Code of Corporate Governance for listed companies.

Basically, she’s forcing listed companies and statutory boards to have women on their boards, regardless of ability or suitability for the role. She also wants companies who fail to comply to explain why they are unable to do so.


Will it work?

The Singapore government is more than familiar with affirmative action; in November 2016, they announced that the upcoming Presidential Election was going to be reserved for Malay candidates. Given the backlash that coincided with that decision, one would think our leaders would be more hesitant in implementing such similar ideas.

After reading through her plans, we identified three key issues that we think could be the downfall of Grace Fu’s master plan.

1. What incentive is there for companies to hire beyond the 20%?

No longer is there a stigma that discourages women from chasing their professional dreams, and as such, more are joining the workforce in recent years. Injecting differing perspectives into discussions and producing results equal to that of their male counterparts, more females are recognised for their talents and abilities.

However, once the quota is reached, what would stop companies from restricting the number of female directors on their board and stunting the progress of other equally capable women?

2. Are we being hinted that women aren’t good enough to make it without help?

Perhaps the most harmful by-product of Fu’s “20-20 Target”, women are now being inadvertently told that they are not smart enough to get on a company’s board without a quota.

The plan is supposed to empower women, not demoralise them, and by assuming they’re weak without the government’s support undos the original intention of this initiative.

And this brings us to our next point…

3. Wouldn’t this affect how female directors are perceived in the workplace?

Hiring or promoting women solely based on quota rather than merit could prove to be an issue with regards to the company’s performance.

It would also result in possible ill-will between the different genders – how would men perceive the female directors who are there because of a government-sanctioned policy rather than their own hard work?

If two candidates, a man with a pristine CV and track record, and a woman with significantly lesser experience and recommendations, applied for the same position, who should get the job?


Further consulting required?

Even with the involvement of the People’s Action Party’s Women Wing, the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations and organisations like Diversity Action Committee, we feel Ms Fu’s proposal sends out the wrong message.

Given the overwhelming hostility towards this initiative, one would wonder if our female workers were consulted before such a radical proposal was drafted up. While Grace Fu should be applauded for offering a solution, it is highly obvious that more tweaking is required.

More could be done to help achieve gender parity in our Singapore workforce, but taking affirmative action that diminishes the brilliance of deserving women is not one of those ways.

Featured Image via Grace Fu