Finding Women Board Candidates

There are many capable women willing to serve on boards. Here are some avenues to find them.

Diversity enables broad-based judgement of risks and opportunities, brings fresh perspectives to existing challenges and explores the unknown for new opportunities. While we recognise the value of having a broad range of diversities, we believe that having women on boards is a powerful and accessible lead-in to wider conversations around board diversity.

CBD supports that the appointment of board directors should be merit-based. In order to uncover the best board candidates, organisations should ensure that the talent pool from which they select their candidate is sufficiently wide. Having a broader slate of candidates comprising both men and women provides the best opportunities to uncover board candidates with skillsets, experience and personality to best suit their organisation.

We encourage organisations to:

  • proactively seek out board candidates beyond the usual profiles, focusing on the qualities they could add to your board skills matrix. Candidates could include those from other industries, first-time directors or candidates younger than 50s-60s.
  • consider other channels in addition to your personal networks to broaden the pool of suitable board candidates.
  • specifically request for women in your search criteria and aim to interview at least one woman in your board selection process.
  • build a pipeline of qualified board candidates internally by identifying talented executives with potential for board roles and give them exposure to serve on external corporate / non-profit boards.
  • subscribe to the professional best practices and processes relating to board appointments outlined in the Statement of Good Practice.
  • understand why candidates agree to serve on your board and whether their goals are in alignment with the organisation’s objectives and strategy.
  • dig deeper when candidates decline to serve on your board. “I don’t have the time” might be a polite way to turn down the offer without saying no.

Stanford University’s Board Diversity Playbook is also a good resource to guide your board appointments.

Channels to Source for Board Candidates

Business Networks

Organisations may engage with business networks including women’s business groups. For example:

Board Matching Services

Listed companies and charities may reach out to the following associations that offer talent matching services at the board level. Statutory boards may also reach out to the Public Service Division for recommendations.

Executive Search Firms

Listed companies and statutory boards may reach out to executive search firms that specialise in talent matching at the most senior level. The executive search firms listed below have signed up to the Statement of Good Practice in Executive Search for Board Directors. They have committed to include, where given the mandate, women candidates of such quality as to achieve one woman candidate interviewed.

Council for Board Diversity

CBD is part of a wider ecosystem that supports organisations on their journey toward greater board diversity. Organisations are welcome to approach CBD for guidance and recommendations of board ready female candidates.

Statement of Good Practice

CBD, together with five leading international executive search firms, namely Egon Zehnder, Heidrick & Struggles, Korn Ferry, Russell Reynolds and Spencer Stuart, have defined the best practices in search criteria and processes relating to board appointments in Singapore. Launched on 15 January 2015, the Statement of Good Practice in executive search for board directors defines the standard for recruitment of board directors in Singapore.

CBD urges executive search firms and organisations alike to subscribe to the professional practices and processes outlined in the Statement.

I welcome the Statement of Good Practice in executive search for board directors, produced by the Diversity Action Committee and search industry leaders. The rigorous review and careful statement of requirements are timeless in all instances. The call to recognise the evolving needs of a changing social and business landscape is particularly relevant. I support especially the meaningful inclusion of women candidates and search from non-traditional sources, and urge businesses to take active steps to do so.​

Mrs Josephine Teo
Minister, Prime Minister’s Office & Second Minister for Manpower & Second Minister for Home Affairs
(January 2015, then Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Transport)

Statement of Good Practice in Executive Search for Board Directors

The Diversity Action Committee, together with five leading international executive search firms, namely Egon Zehnder, Heidrick & Struggles, Korn Ferry, Russell Reynolds and Spencer Stuart, have come together to define the best practices in search criteria and processes relating to board appointments in Singapore. This collaboration is an unique initiative in the local context, defining the standard for recruitment of Board Directors among corporates based in Singapore.

Launched on 15 January 2015, this initiative recognises the importance of director choice in improving board effectiveness and corporate governance. Collectively, we share our convictions with companies who use our services in order that they may join us in subscribing to the professional practices and processes outlined in the Statement.

  1. Board Composition & Progressive Board Renewal
    When taking a specific brief, the executive search firm should regard the assignment in the context of the needs of the Board as a whole to serve the interest of the company going forward. The firm should support the Board in performing an analysis of what other capabilities are or will be required to serve corporate strategy in the immediate future as well as medium term. The conclusions will be reflected in the competencies used to guide the selection of new directors. Risk management considerations should be raised if not already covered in the brief. With ever shorter product lifecycles and proliferation of disruptive competition, Boards that draw their directors from different pools of experience, expertise and social background, would be better equipped to recognise and meet their challenges. Search firms should encourage Boards to actively pursue diversity. Search firms should also engage with clients in developing a board renewal plan that would allow both broadening and progressive rebalancing of capabilities within the board for its continued optimal functioning to serve the interests of the company.
  2. Broadening Candidate Pool and Selection Criteria
    To widen the pool of top calibre and diverse candidates for evaluation, search firms should encourage clients to define a broader set of search criteria in addition to having candidates with prior experience as a board member/CEO. Particular attention should be paid to candidates with relevant experience in emerging industries and areas of specialisation. Non-traditional sources should be tapped whilst bearing in mind that candidates should have both depth of expertise as well as sufficient breadth of knowledge and skills to contribute across the entirety of the board agenda.
  3. Supporting Diversity with Women on Boards
    Women represent an increasing share of purchasing power at wholesale and retail levels. Yet many companies have an under-representation of women in their boards. To assist their clients in rectifying the situation and providing diverse slates of candidates, search firms should ensure that 20-25% of the candidates are women. Search firms should also aim to have clients interview at least one qualified woman candidate.
  4. Evaluation & Selection
    Search firms will prepare candidates for interviews and guide them through the process. Particular attention will be paid to first-time candidates. Search firms will assist clients in their evaluation of each candidate on the shortlist, with advice and comparative reference material, highlight areas in candidates’ profile for attention and clarification in order to make a fair and objective evaluation. In addition to evaluating candidates’ skills and experience, search firms will point out the team dynamics of current boards and how shortlisted candidates’ personal characteristics could complement the boards. Desired personal characteristics for board appointments include courage, diplomacy, wisdom and integrity. In the final selection, search firms will always remind clients to check if the final selection is aligned with the board composition and progressive board renewal planned at the beginning of the search process.
  5. On-boarding/Follow-up Processes
    Search firms should advise clients on the changes in team dynamics when diversity is introduced and how best to induct a new director and prepare the board in order to benefit more fully from diversity. Search firms may offer other services as an on-going support to diversity on the board.
Thought Leadership Articles

Diversity of Singapore boards approaching a momentous milestone

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Progress on gender shows path for multi-dimensional board diversity ambitions.

Lack of board-ready women: perception or reality?

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This perceived lack may have resulted from where and how boards look for candidates.