A headline in some of the Singapore publications last week captured my attention. CEO of DBS Bank, Mr Piyush Gupta while addressing an online panel discussion on board diversity – organised by BoardAgender, an initiative under the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations – said, “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’.”
According to media reports*, he also mentioned that 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.
It is rather surprising that some of the largest listed companies in business-friendly Singapore are still cagey about following the path of increasing women representation on their boards. This is borne by the fact 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.
Create a Gender Equality Metric/ Rating system
It is high time we take a long, hard look at this issue. Questions galore. Is naming and shaming the only option available to us in furthering the cause of Workplace Gender Equality? In fact, will it serve the purpose or result in mere symbolism? Why is it that despite all the reports by the McKinseys and Bains of the world listing the economic benefits of increased women’s representation in the workforce, businesses continue to shy away? What are we missing here?
Instead of naming and shaming, should we build a financial incentive for companies that are pushing the gender equality agenda in the true sense? And this is something that a leader of a financial institution like DBS Bank can very much take the lead on.
How can we measure and rate companies based on their Workplace Gender Equality with a standard metric? This could be on the lines of AAA rating that most businesses are familiar with.
Data aggregation and analysis that integrates objective feedback from women and published data on companies to create a Gender Diversity Metric that differentiates workplaces around Gender Equity is the need of the hour.
Companies that have a better rating should be able to source capital on better terms, be considered investor-friendly and reap real business benefits. A metric like this will also bring about more transparency in the information shared by companies around overall women’s representation in the workplace and not just remain focussed around board representation.
Introduce Gender Credits
Crystal ball gazing into a Gender Metric brings forth immense possibilities. Why not give Gender Credits like Carbon Credits? There will always be sectors like mining, manufacturing, etc. that may be relatively low on women’s participation. But can such companies earn Gender Credits by enabling education of girls, training or sponsoring deserving working women, preparing women in senior leadership for the boardroom, building childcare facilities, etc.? I strongly believe that a holistic model of financial business benefits accruing for the corporations that choose the path of Workplace Gender Equality rather than targeting those that shy away is the effective path to pursue.
Commit to Corporate Transparency
For some of the passionate supporters of Workplace Gender Equality, it is deeply disappointing and yet not surprising that discussions on Workplace Gender Equality somehow keep getting stuck within the realms of board representation. Yes, it counts, it matters, and is more than symbolic. But where are we when it comes to transparency on matters of gender pay gap, sharing workforce statistics, rolling out programs for removing biases at the workplace, rehiring women, etc? Unfortunately, most companies would rather not talk about it.
In my personal experience working in this area and building a community platform, we often run into a wall when it comes to getting companies to share about their policies and practices around Workplace Gender Equality. Even feel-good, positive development stories are difficult to come by. Except when there is a feverish pitch in the runup to the annual media jamboree – the International Women’s Day – in March. At other times, getting a response that says “Our CEO does not have time to prioritise this inquiry”, is more the norm.
Unless corporations commit to being transparent about their plans and initiatives in this regard, we may never move beyond tokenism and paying lip service to this important issue.
Collaborate to Build and Execute a Sustainable Roadmap
With Singapore being in the midst of a year-long initiative, “Conversations on Women’s Development”, it is imperative that industry captains and civil society collaborate to come up with a tangible and sustainable roadmap to bring about this change. The government has been proactive and supportive in initiating legal and societal mindset changes. But the onus is on the corporate sector to move beyond headlining all gender discussions to board representation and ensure that the Sustainable Development Goal 5 of United Nations is achievable.
Singapore has a track record of succeeding in several areas by putting heads together and pursuing a goal with enormous focus. It is time to repeat that success in the realm of Gender Equality and Inclusion driven by a clarity of purpose, unwavering commitment, and a spirit of collaboration.
Vishwesh Iyer is the Co-Founder & Director of Singapore-headquartered Women Icons Network. An experienced communications professional, he is passionate about making workplaces more equitable with greater engagement of all stakeholders. The Women Icons Network is a community platform that allows businesses to champion women and gender equality. A technologically powered, globally scalable online platform it amplifies the voices of women at workplace.
This article was first published as a LinkedIn article.