“legal Empowerment 101: Understanding The Benefits Of Attorney Assistance” – Use quotas to promote women board members? DBS Boss, Mahila Vakil and Shanmugam give different views in the forum

SINGAPORE – The vexed question of implementing quotas to increase the number of women in Singapore boardrooms prompted some sharply divergent views at a panel discussion on inclusive workplaces on Tuesday (March 14).

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From left: Ms Stephanie Yun Theo, Chair of the SG, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, Group Head of Institutional Banking at DBS Ms Tan Sue Shan and DBS Chief Executive Officer Mr Piyush Gupta.

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When asked what organizations can do to create inclusive workplaces, one of the panelists, DBS Bank Chief Executive Officer Piyush Gupta, suggested implementing positive discrimination or quotas.

He said the idea came during the early years when he sat as a board member.

“I thought we needed a quota because the percentage of women on boards in Singapore is extremely low. And I said, maybe for a while, we need to have a lot of positive discrimination, like quotas.

He added that he found it interesting that most of the women on the board opposed the idea.

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“There is nothing worse than putting quotas on women’s empowerment. Because there are people who will look at me on the board—and I serve on the board—and they’ll look at me and say she’s only there because she has two X chromosomes. The discussion was moderated by Stephanie Yuen Theo, who is also the founder of a non-profit organization for girls and women, SG Her Empowerment”.

The moderator of the discussion, Ms Stephanie Yuen Theo, who is also the founder of SG Her Empowerment, a non-profit organization for girls and women and joint managing partner of TSMP Law Corporation, was firmly against the quota.

“There is nothing worse than putting quotas on women’s empowerment. Because there are people who will look at me on the board — and I serve on the board — and they’ll look at me and say she’s only there because she has two X chromosomes,” she said.

The event was hosted by DBS and held to mark International Women’s Day, which falls on March 8.

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National daily The Straits Times reported that a report released earlier this month revealed that women make up 21.5 percent of board directors among the top 100 companies listed on the Singapore Exchange.

The event was also attended by two other panellists, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam and Group Head of Institutional Banking at DBS, Ms Tan Sue Shan.

Mr. Shanmugam agreed with Mr. Gupta on implementing quotas to move the needle on gender equality in the workplace.

“I was involved in this discussion for some time. I was in favor of the government, imposing quotas, because the numbers were not moving at all,” he said.

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“But we did it the typically Singaporean way. We have not put it into law, but the Monetary Authority of Singapore has introduced various guidelines. And everyone took notes and, you know, friendly conversation. And things started to change,” Mr. Shanmugam added.

The fact that women can break the glass ceiling and stake their claim in male-dominated spaces also came up during the panel discussion.

Ms Tan spoke of her early career experiences as a trader in New York in the United States during the 1990s, which was “almost entirely male dominated”.

“I think the subconscious bias in those days was that you had to be a man to make it in the trading room. And so, if you’re a woman, it doesn’t matter how good you are. There was a subconscious bias that you weren’t going to be as good as the boys,” she said.

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“I learned to have a good attitude, to be agile and responsible for your own career path,” Ms Tan added.

“Attitude is important, especially a resilient attitude. If they (men) throw something at you, throw it back. Throw it back with gusto, whether it’s a curveball or a joke. Take it in your stride. Don’t go there. . bathroom and cry.”

One of the questions the audience asked the panelists was how women can build confidence in the workplace.

Mr. Gupta responded that putting himself in public speaking situations and receiving mentorship are some of the ways he encourages people to network.

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However, Ms. Theo said mentorship would be a difficult option for a mid-level career woman if most, if not all, mentors are men.

“If I always look relaxed with these mentors, people will say I’m sleeping on top. So maybe what works for a man looking for a mentor might not work for a woman looking for a mentor,” she added.

Another question was how junior employees can feel comfortable speaking out against discriminatory practices, which can have significant implications for workers in lower positions.

“You need to set the culture right from the top leadership. And you need to have reporting mechanisms that protect whistleblowers.

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“And in today’s world, I think anyone running modern organizations should be aware of these things, whether in the public or private sector,” he added.

At the event, Mr. Shanmugam announced that DBS will launch a seven-month Women’s Leadership Program from April, which provides support network opportunities for high-potential young women leaders at the bank.

There is also a “SHE Sneak Peek” program by SG Her Empowerment in association with Standard Chartered Bank, where selected underprivileged girls will be given the opportunity to attend short placements in public, private and people sectors. This will be released over the course of a year.

He added that a good mix of 20 companies and organizations from various sectors came on board, including DBS, Grab, Ernst & Young, Sheen, SCDF, United Women of Singapore and TSMP Law Corporation.

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Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that women accounted for 36 percent of board directors in the top 100 listed companies in 2022. This is wrong. It should be 21.5 percent. We apologize for the error.

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