The new generation of women on boards

They’re mostly professionals or full-time top execs; number of women directors rising


A new generation of women directors has emerged in Singapore, muscling their way in steadily growing numbers into a once almost exclusively male domain.


These women – mostly professionals or top executives in full-time jobs – face some tough challenges but enjoy the exposure they get and the varied duties involved.


The latest Diversity Action Committee (DAC) report released last week found the number of women holding board seats rose from 448 in 2014 to 479 last year.


The DAC is leading the push to tackle the under-representation of women on the boards of Singapore Exchange-listed companies.


These women directors have found their places on the boards of various large-, mid- and small-capitalisation firms, and often hold several top positions. They come from a diverse range of industries.


Women directors

MS RACHEL ENG, 47, Wong Partnership deputy chairman
Early directorship role:Tiger Airways Holdings(2009-2013)
Directorships: SPH Reit Management(2015), Starhub (2015)


MRS CHNG SOK HUI, 54, Chief financial officer of DBS Bank
Previous directorship role:Housing and Development Board
Directorships: Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (2013), SGX (2015)


MS CHONG CHIET PING, 61, Managing partner of Small World Group Incubator
Early directorship roles: Razer Inc (2007-2014), BioMachines (2011-2015)
Directorships: Ascendas Real Estate Investment Trust (2015), Wisewater (2014)


They include Ms Wong Su-Yen, chief executive of Human Capital Leadership Institute; Ms Bella Young, Hong Kong-based general manager of aviation fuel supplier Air BP Asia, and Ms Rachel Eng, newly appointed deputy chairman of WongPartnership, one of the Big Four law firms here.


Ms Young, for instance, became a non-independent director of Singapore-listed jet-fuel trader China Aviation Oil last April.


The mother of two girls, aged 18 and 14, says she was attracted by the opportunity to be part of the firm at a higher level, heading its strategy instead of day-to- day management.


“I joined the Singapore-listed firm because the scope is bigger, and we have a large group of shareholders that we’re responsible for, and it’s one step further in my career. I felt I could make an impact there.”


The biggest reward for her is to be out there and eventually make a bigger impact on women around the world.


Ms Young says time management is one challenge, but she has found that manageable.


Travelling for work and her director duties also gives her a chance to share her insights about different cultures and her career with her daughters.


Ms Teo Swee Lian, the former deputy managing director of financial supervision at the Monetary Authority of Singapore and later special adviser in the managing director’s office, also believes being a board director requires deep commitment.


Just before retiring from the central bank last year, she became an independent director at Singtel, and later a non-executive director at Avanda Investment Management and Hong Kong-listed insurer AIA Group.


Ms Teo, 56, says: “One of the key things about finding board directors is that you need to get not only people with the requisite skills but also the time to commit.


“In the old days, not just in Singapore, fellow regulators would tell me about people who are on 20 or 30 boards. I made a vow to myself to commit. You’re there as a steward. You’re not there to run the company but help steer and help the senior management join the dots. It’s been very fascinating, no two days are the same.”


Ms Veronica Eng, 62, founding partner of international private equity firm Permira, became an independent director at conglomerate Keppel Corp on July 1. She retired from Permira last September.


The mother of two sons, aged 27 and 23, says in general, women in senior leadership positions face a set of challenges not typically encountered by male colleagues – the need to excel in both work and home responsibilities.


It is important for women to be prepared to put forward their views, be it in their jobs or as directors.


“It is a very competitive world out there, you need to be able to speak up and defend your ground to succeed. I am well known for being not afraid to take the counter argument. When I interview people, I normally challenge them to test their willingness and resilience to defend their opinion.”


With women directors rising to the challenge, they hope to inspire more to take up such roles.


Ms Teo says: “The main message is, I’m not a luminary or trophy board member but I was still invited on decent boards, and I hope that encourages people.


“To women who are professionals who have reached a certain level in their career, you have something to contribute, you don’t have to be famous. This is a story of an average Jane, getting somewhere on the board.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2016, with the headline ‘The new generation of women on boards