Taiwan: more women at the top

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How serious is Taiwan about gender equality and, specifically, getting women onto the boards of its listed companies? The stock exchange in Taipei recently amended its corporate governance guidelines to encourage companies “to take the factor of gender equality into consideration” in forming boards.

Hardly the language of a determined crusader. But by regional and even global standards, Taiwan is not doing at all badly at getting women into senior positions.

The “number one reason” for suggesting companies think about board diversity, says Michael Lin, a senior executive vice president of the exchange, is to keep up with a global move towards considering diversity as an important indicator of good corporate governance.

Nearby, he says, Singapore and Malaysia have been promoting it a lot.

“We see that is the international trend, so we just put this into so-called best practices,” Lin told beyondbrics. “It’s an encouragement mechanism, currently it’s not enforced or mandatory.”

So how does Taiwan rank in terms of boardroom gender equity? Not badly, compared at least to the relatively low level of board diversity globally.

Lin says about 11 per cent of the TWSE’s 6,000-odd board directorships are held by women. Of its more than 800 listed companies, 4.8 per cent have women as chairperson.

That puts Taiwan ahead of both Hong Kong and Singapore, though all are behind the US and some European markets.

In Hong Kong, 10.7 per cent of directors are women, according to the 30% Club, an advocacy group for board diversity that recently started working to nudge groups listed there towards greater representation of women.

In Singapore, a few more than 7 per cent of the directors of companies listed on the SGX were women in 2011, according to research released last year by the National University of Singapore. The boards with the highest percentage of women — 10.3 per cent — were those of companies linked with Temasek Holdings, the government’s investment company.

By comparison, 15 per cent of directors in the UK and 16.1 per cent in the US are women, according to the 30% Club.

It probably helps that, at least in regional terms, Taiwan is a comparatively egalitarian society. Recent research by MasterCard found that Taiwan ranked ahead of Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea on women’s workforce participation, although it was behind Singapore and Hong Kong on the proportion of business leaders who are women.

The issue now, says Benson Liu, director of the Taiwan Corporate Governance Association, is that gender diversity is not high on the agendas of most local companies, although outright gender discrimination is illegal.

While local companies have some diversity at their executive level, it is not as high as foreign companies’ offices in Taiwan, he says.

“We haven’t gotten to that point,” says Liu.

Related reading:
More women in manufacturing reach top, FT
Guest post: Turkish businesswomen need more access to finance, beyondbrics
Females add diversity to boards, FT
Women at the Top, FT Special Report

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