Minister Grace Fu Hopes For Greater Female Representation Across Company Boards

Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) Minister Grace Fu is making headlines again. No, she’s not asking for an apology this time.

She’s talking about female representation and gender equality in the workforce elite.

Last Friday (26 Jan), while launching a report on gender diversity in Singapore, she lamented that females only occupy only just over 10% of board seats, which is a figure that’s far from ‘optimal’.

To achieve her goal of 20% female board representation by 2020, she recommends that “half of the companies on SGX” without female directors, each make an effort to “appoint just one female director to their board”.

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Following up in a Facebook post on Jan 28, she writes that valuing women for their knowledge on “pro-women/family practices” is actually “meritocratic”.

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While we applaud her for being an advocate for greater female representation, we aren’t really convinced by her reasons to do so.

Let’s explore other debatable elements of her speech.

Having a female director may solve gender-related issues

Ms Grace Fu touches on the importance of having “women board members” to iron out issues faced in the office.

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She also explains that a balanced distribution of genders on the board is no longer a “nice-to-have”, but a necessity.

This is because, she believes that having a woman on a company’s board is vital to tackling the problems women face in the workplace — like sexual harassment and unequal pay.

Having a female’s voice amplified and given more weight, may help cultivate a more fair and protected work environment.

We think, however, that all board members – regardless of gender – should be able to handle gender-related issues that pervade their company.

Representation and chalking up the numbers, are far less important than educating both males and females to solve the problems.

Women board members will share their perspectives on family practices

Why should women be on the board? To share their expertise on domestic affairs, it seems.

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She believes female board members can inspire more female participation in the workforce and better appeal to targeted female consumers.

Additionally, she explains that meritocracy does not contradict gender diversity, if women candidates are “valued for their perspective and understanding of pro-women/family practices”.

However, the problem here is what she’s implying. Who’s to say men cannot offer the same insight into family practices?

A simple solution to a complex problem

The big question is how Singapore can achieve the goal of 20% females across company boards – set by Diversity Action Committee (DAC) in 2016.

Here’s what she had to say.

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She recommends an average of 130 females annually to join a company’s board, until 2020.

She continues on, hopeful in bringing about change to the status quo.

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She proposes that locally registered companies – in particular those with all-male boards – can initiate change.

The solution she proposed is pragmatic, albeit insufficient to handling all the complexities of gender imbalance in the corporate world.

Hitting the 20% target set out by DAC doesn’t mean all is well. We probably shouldn’t be roping in females just to make up the numbers.

If gender diversity is used simply as a means to ensure social justice for females, then it serves no real purpose in reinventing the workplace since attitudes have failed to change.

Gender diversity is complicated

We definitely see Ms Grace Fu’s well-meaning intention for greater representation of women in the corporate sector.

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But Minister Grace Fu’s words certainly left us deep in thought.

For instance, why should we wait for a woman to join the board before tackling sexual harassment in the workplace or ensuring fair pay is practiced?

Also, we think that both men and women can offer equally profound insight into domestic affairs.

Although the target she advocates for is a nice guideline to aspire towards, before jumping in to plant women on boards just to make up the numbers, we must recognise that gender imbalance is a multi-faceted problem.

We do hope to see fair representation of the sexes eventually in upper management, but it’s definitely a complex issue that requires a more nuanced solution.

Featured image from Grace Fu.