Asia lags on board diversity, study says

Gender diversity at boards in some of Asia’s leading economies is lowest in the world

Asian women are overwhelmingly under-represented on corporate boards despite attempts to improve boardroom gender diversity, according to the fifth edition of Deloitte Global’s Women in the boardroom: A global perspective.

The report, which explores the efforts of more than 60 countries to promote boardroom gender diversity, reveals that women hold just 15 percent of board seats worldwide. These numbers show only modest progress from the 2015 edition of the study, Corporate Secretary sister publication IR Magazine reports.

For the first time, the study includes a region-by-region analysis of corporate leadership and diversity, and a direct correlation is found between female leadership, CEOs and board chairs to board seats held by women.

‘Organizations with women in the top leadership positions have almost double the number of board seats held by women,’ writes Dan Konigsburg, senior managing director of Deloitte Global’s center for corporate governance. ‘The inverse is true as well, with gender-diverse boards more likely to appoint a female CEO and board chair.’

In an accompanying explanatory note, he adds: ‘This illustrates an important trend: as the number of female CEOs and board chairs climbs, it is likely to spur greater board diversity. Yet the percentage of women securing top leadership roles remains very low, with women holding only 4 percent of CEO and board chair positions globally.’

The report includes statistics from the larger economies in South East Asia – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand – as well as Vietnam, which is new to this edition. At less than 8 percent, gender diversity at some of Asia’s leading economies is the lowest in the world. Only a few countries in the region have quotas or similar approaches to address the issue.

‘The percentage of women occupying board seats in Asia (7.8 percent) is improving but the pace of change is still slow compared with global statistics (14.5 percent in North America and 22.6 percent in Europe),’ says Ernest Kan, leader of Deloitte Southeast Asia’s center for corporate governance.

‘There is much more that can be done to create an environment that would enable women to break the glass ceiling to accelerate boardroom diversity. Strong leadership is needed to change the board’s composition by focusing on identifying capable and board-ready individuals,’ Kan adds in the explanatory note.

The percentage of board seats held by women in Singapore has increased by 1.7 percentage points to 10.7 percent, while the number of female board chairs has declined by 1.6 percentage points to 5.4 percent.

‘As markets become more sophisticated and expectations rise for boards to include directors with different backgrounds and expertise, diversity has become nothing less than a business value,’ Seah Gek Choo, co-leader of the Deloitte Singapore center for corporate governance and chair of its Singapore Board-ready Women Program, said at the launch of the initiative last December. ‘Much of women’s abilities to reach our career and leadership goals lies within ourselves so we need to remove the self-imposed career blocks and propel ourselves to seize opportunities in leadership roles.’

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