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Companies that don’t do enough for gender diversity should be named in the media: DBS CEO

SINGAPORE — Companies that do not have women on their boards could be pressured to do more by having their names published in the media as it positions them in a “bad light”, Mr Piyush Gupta, the chief executive officer of DBS bank, said.

Mr Piyush Gupta (pictured), chief executive officer of DBS bank, is a member of the Council of Board Diversity in Singapore.

Mr Piyush Gupta (pictured), chief executive officer of DBS bank, is a member of the Council of Board Diversity in Singapore.

SINGAPORE — Companies that do not have women on their boards could be pressured to do more by having their names published in the media as it positions them in a “bad light”, Mr Piyush Gupta, the chief executive officer of DBS bank, said. 

Another way to get these business owners to feel the heat is if a Cabinet minister or a political leader places pressure on them to make the change. 

Mr Gupta made these suggestions on Tuesday (June 1) during an online panel discussion on board diversity. The panel is organised by BoardAgender, an initiative under the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation. 

During the panel discussion, Mr Gupta said that Singapore failed to achieve its target of having 20 per cent of its 100 largest listed companies include women on their boards by the end of 2020. 

They hit 17.6 per cent, a 1.4 percentage point increase compared with the previous year, based on an April 2021 press release by the Council of Board Diversity.

Mr Gupta sits as a member on the council, which was established by the Government to promote a sustained increase in the number of women on boards of listed companies, statutory boards and non-profit organisations. 

During the panel discussion, he was joined by Ms Ann Cairns, the executive vice-chair of payment company Mastercard, and Ms Nicola Wakefiel Evans, a non-executive director of property developer Lendlease.

Ms Cairns, who is the global chair of The 30% Club, a campaign to increase gender diversity on company boards, talked about the progress made in the United Kingdom, while Ms Evans, the country head of The 30% Club in Australia, gave information on the situation there. Both Australia and the UK have hit 30 per cent.

Mr Gupta explained that there could be two cultural challenges for Singapore failing to meet its target of 20 per cent. 

One factor is that many companies here are family-owned businesses with patriarchs as the anchor decision-makers.

Another is that many listed companies here are not homegrown companies, but come from China or Indonesia. Mr Gupta said that he found it particularly hard to make progress with some of these companies. 

“I also believe that there is an active role for government support and people pressure… Maybe not quite naming and shaming, but putting pressure on people through the media to the public, reflecting on performance, is important.”

He said that the Council of Board Diversity got Singapore President Halimah Yacob to comment on and express her disappointment at the slow progress the country is making. 

In March, Madam Halimah said on Facebook during International Women’s Day that governments need to prioritise gender equality and place it at the centre of their development programmes.

At a conference organised by Hong Kong English daily South China Morning Post at the time, she said it is important to ensure that women are represented at all levels of decision making, so that their voices can be heard, and their needs and aspirations are better reflected. 

Mr Gupta said that Cabinet ministers have also expressed the need to have more gender-diverse boards, but he did not give more details. 

“Once you start hearing from leadership and political figures, that starts ratcheting up the pressure on individual companies that are not there yet,” he added.

Related topics

gender diversity women DBS Piyush Gupta workplace companies

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