DO YOU SEE PARALLELS BETWEEN THE LACK OF GENDER DIVERSITY ON BOARDS OF LISTED COMPANIES AND THOSE IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION?
When I first entered the legal profession all the judges were men. But there are a vast number of suitable and qualified women out there and it wasn’t difficult to find them once we decided we wanted more women judges. I think it’s the same with boards.
The solution may be dialogue and awareness. But I am beginning to think it might be necessary to prescribe for it. Many people argue against quotas, saying they bring tokenism – that a woman is appointed simply because we need to have a woman. But I don’t think that is going to happen, because there are many qualified women and if you are forced to take a woman on your board, you will find the best qualified women.
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU HESITATE TO RECOMMEND QUOTAS.
Yes, because it’s not really a good thing to be dictating to boards. These are private matters, and companies need to be autonomous when doing these things. But I think if you don’t force a little bit of change, it’s not going to happen.
DO YOU THINK COMPANY BOARDS THAT ARE NOT DIVERSE ARE AUTOMATICALLY LESS WELL RUN?
Every company board wants to be well run. No one will say they don’t want top of the line governance and transparency. No, I don’t think a board that is not gender diverse is automatically less well run. However, many women would qualify and come to the attention of a nominating committee that sets out to identify and appoint the possible members for its board. There are so many qualified and capable women in Singapore and elsewhere. The indication therefore is that the processes of a board which is not gender diverse are not rigorous or are flawed and it may not be functioning optimally.
WHAT IS YOUR REACTION WHEN BOARDS THAT SAY ‘WE ARE ALL MALE, BUT THEY ARE THE BEST PEOPLE FOR THE JOB’?
My questions to them would be “how many women did you interview before you decided that this person was better than that person? Did you shortlist only men? And why did this happen?”
AND TO BOARDS THAT SAY ‘WE DON’T NEED FEMALE DIRECTORS BECAUSE WE HAVE SENIOR FEMALE EXECUTIVES’?
People who say that do not understand the difference in the roles the board and management play.
AND TO BOARDS THAT SAY THEY ARE LOOKING FOR THE BEST CANDIDATES, BUT DON’T FIND ANY WOMEN?
They have limited themselves. The thing is, though, I don’t think anybody does that deliberately. We all like to think of ourselves as having enlightened self-interest and no biases. But research has shown that we all bring our biases to decision-making, and I think that’s what actually happens.
I don’t understand why, if people are looking for the best person for the board, there are not many women. There is a missing link between what people want to do and what is actually happening.
Something is happening that we are not quite clear about, but I assume it’s the biases that people bring to that decision about who to recruit for the board.