IS IT POSSIBLE TO MEASURE THE TANGIBLE ADVANTAGES OF HAVING WOMEN DIRECTORS?
I think it’s more about the process. Quantitatively, it’s more difficult to measure. When we look for board members, we are quite genderneutral and we look for capabilities first. But increasingly in the last couple of years, gender diversity has become more important. The Board feels that, since half of our customers are female, women should have better representation.
Also, SIA has a large number of female employees, especially the customer-facing stewardesses. Sometimes on a long flight they have time to chat, and part of the director’s role is to get feedback from employees, especially on human resource issues and approaches. We find the female employees relate better to a female director. They are able to be more open – they are more comfortable discussing some issues with them.
So these benefits are more qualitative, and difficult to quantify.
HOW DO YOU SOURCE FOR DIRECTORS?
We look at the rotation and the retirement of directors and we look to fill certain gaps. We will make a shortlist, and in the shortlist we like to see gender diversity. We will look at the Board twice a year, at who may be stepping down and what sort of capability gap we need to fill. And more often, we are looking at the next 10 years of the company’s development and we say, “Where would we like to be and what capability do we need to build?” We may do this internally or we may do this with outside agencies. So, the mandate will be quite specific – it’s not just any director with experience.
RATHER THAN BEING GENDER-NEUTRAL, SHOULD CHAIRMEN BE MORE PROACTIVE?
I think so. We purposely look for gender diversity, but I still rank the skill set and experience first.
We also search intentionally to fill certain gaps and build certain capabilities. For instance, right now we are looking for skills in big data. Sometimes, because of the male domination of certain fields, suitable women may be more difficult to find. If we can, we should have two or three women on the Board, but we are not just going to appoint them because of gender. Filling those capability gaps would be more important.
Perhaps having a female heading the nominating committee can help with gender diversity.
SOME CHAIRMEN MIGHT WORRY ABOUT BEING TAKEN OUT OF THEIR COMFORT ZONE BY HAVING DIRECTORS IN THE BOARDROOM WHO CHALLENGE THEM.
SIA management welcomes that. We need to be stretched. SIA has been very successful for quite a long time. One of our worries is that we become trapped in our past successful formula, afraid to break away from it.
When you are a premier corporate business airline, or known as such, to go into low-cost carriers is a big diversion. But we had that discussion 10 years ago and started Scoot. We need to stretch ourselves and management welcomes that. I think very few industries will have a very stable environment for the next 10 to 15 years.