Businesses, society to benefit as more women take the lead, says President Halimah

Amala Balakrishner

SINGAPORE (Sept 20): The economy and society are poised to benefit as more women take on management roles in businesses, says President Halimah Yacob, Singapore’s first female head of state.

Speaking at the Women’s Forum Asia on Wednesday, Madam Halimah cited a survey of over 1,000 Asian firms by the International Finance Corporation, which revealed that companies where at least 30% of the directors were female fared better than firms with all-male boards.

"To this extent, organisations in Singapore must continue to embrace diversity in leadership positions, which has been shown to lead to positive impact on business profitability, a more robust corporate governance, as well as fresh and innovative perspectives," she says.

She adds that this phenomenon has been made possible here because “our society has been built on principles of meritocracy and equal opportunities”.

Madam Halimah also noted the potential for greater participation of women in the domains of entrepreneurship and science and technology.

Data shows that women here only occupy 25% of jobs in the up and coming sectors of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). One reason cited for this has been the perception that such fields have historically been male-dominated.

However, Madam Halimah encouraged women not to subscribe to the common misconception that they are inferior in these specialisations and allow it to be a deterrent.

Speaking at the same event, Bursa Malaysia chairman Shireen Muhiudeen noted that women are no longer relegated to the domestic realm.

Even as women challenge their multiple commitments as a mother, wife and daughter, Shireen says they can now leverage on technology to remain active in the workforce.

"If you can do something via technology, why not... this would be one of the ways to keep women working and empowered – and part of the ecosystem," she muses.

Another female leader speaking at the conference, Agnes Pannier-Runacher, France’s secretary of state for economy and finance, noted that engaging more women will have a substantive impact on Singapore’s economy.

For starters, she expects Asia Pacific economies to add US$4.5 trillion ($6.2 trillion) to their collective gross domestic product (GDP) just by having more women in the workplace.

And she says this will also contribute to countries’ social development.

“Empowering women to reach their potential is not only a basic human right, it is also worthwhile human investment,” Pannier-Runacher adds.