SINGAPORE – Policymakers across the region should adopt quotas on corporate boards to reduce the gender gap in leadership positions, according to female speakers at a forum on Thursday (Sept 19).

Ms Sarah Cottle, global head of market insight for S&P Global Platts, told a panel discussion that legislative measures on gender quotas in some countries have shown to be effective so they should be “considered more holistically and globally”.

But Ms Louise Harvey, non-executive chairman of strategic communications at FTI Consulting, added that to bring about gender quotas, “you have to be prepared to challenge people in leadership roles to make change”.

Ms Anne-Gabrielle Heilbronner, member of the management board and secretary general of Publicis Groupe, noted that women held 44.2 per cent of directorships in France in 2018, a figure credited to mandatory gender quotas introduced in 2011.

In contrast, a 2017 study found that women account for just 12.4 per cent of board seats in Asia-Pacific companies, said CNBC reporter Karen Gilchrist, who moderated the discussion held as part of the Women’s Forum Asia at Raffles City Convention Centre.

Ms Kaori Sasaki, founder and chief executive of ewoman, said the lower numbers in Asia-Pacific could be due to family values.

“Even in Japan, it depends on the city. Tokyo is more international and global, with new ways of thinking introduced… but in other cities, of course there are cultural differences,” she said, adding that some men in Tokyo help their wives take care of the domestic work, which would be less common in other cities.

Ms Heilbronner said shifting these expectations of women in society means addressing societal bias and pushing for diversity through global networks.

Creating a pipeline of female talent, which requires greater consideration of how tasks are shared between men and women, equal pay and availability of childcare, is also important, she noted, adding: “Once we are in the world, what do we do? It is our responsibility… to be extremely active, to be members of committees, to chair committees.”

The message of reducing the gender leadership gap is an important one, Ms Cottle said.

“This is not about being selfish, this is not about trying to dominate, this is not about taking other people’s jobs,” she added.

“The message has to be that female inclusion in the workforce around the world is a force of good.”

Speakers at the forum on Thursday also discussed the role of the private sector in addressing climate change and the shift in societal mindsets to better value women’s leadership.

The Straits Times is a media partner of the three-day forum, which ends on Friday.