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Boardroom diversity has improved slightly in Singapore and the rest of the world, although women are still drastically under-represented on corporate boards here and globally.

A new report has also uncovered a telling trend: put women in the very top corporate jobs and female board numbers will also soar.

Women in Singapore held 10.7 per cent of board seats last year, up 1.7 percentage points from 2015, according to the Women In The Boardroom report released yesterday by consultancy firm Deloitte.

However, the number of female board chairmen fell by 1.6 percentage points to 5.4 per cent.

Globally, women held 15 per cent of board seats, a rise of 3 percentage points from 2015, when the report was last published. But they held only 4 per cent of top leadership roles, such as board chairmen and chief executive officers (CEOs).

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The latest report compiled data covering nearly 7,000 firms in 44 countries in the Asia-Pacific, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East.

For the first time, the report examined the relationship between corporate leadership and diversity. It found that firms with female leaders, including CEOs and board chairmen, have almost double the number of board seats held by women, as compared with male leadership.

 

Worldwide statistics:

15% - Women holding board seats in 2016, a rise of 3 percentage points from 2015.

4% - Women in top leadership roles.

 

Singapore statistics:

10.7% - Women in Singapore holding board seats in 2016 - up 1.7 percentage points from 2015.

5.4% - Female board chairmen in Singapore, a fall of 1.6 percentage points.

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Mr Dan Konigsburg, senior managing director of Deloitte's Global Centre for Corporate Governance, said the direct correlation between female leadership and board seats held by women highlighted an important trend. "As the numbers of female CEOs and board chairs climb, it is likely to spur greater board diversity," he said.

Norway, the first country to introduce a gender quota of 40 per cent for both sexes on the boards of listed companies, boasted the highest percentage of board seats held by women - 42 per cent.

Meanwhile, France and New Zealand posted the largest improvement in the number of women holding board seats last year - both saw the numbers rise by 10.1 per cent.

In France, 40 per cent of board seats are held by women, while in New Zealand, 27.5 per cent of board seats are occupied by women.

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Of the 1,626 companies studied in Asia, just 7.8 per cent of board seats are occupied by women, well below 14.6 per cent in North America and 22.6 per cent in Europe.

Malaysia came in first with 13.7 per cent of board seats held by women, while India was second with 12.4 per cent.

South Korea was the worst performing, with just 2.5 per cent of director seats held by women.

Meanwhile, Singapore could be set for better board diversity.

The People's Action Party Women's Wing and the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations arm BoardAgender made a proposal this year to the Monetary Authority of Singapore to double the proportion of women on boards to 20 per cent by 2020.

Deloitte Singapore Centre for Corporate Governance co-leader Seah Gek Choo said: "As markets become more sophisticated and expectations rise for boards to include directors with different backgrounds and expertise, diversity has become nothing less than a business value."

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Article first published on StraitsTimes