International Women's Day: HCLI's Research Initiatives on Developing Women Leaders

08/03/2017
Today is International Women’s Day. Exactly a year ago in 2016, we shared that HCLI will be embarking on a series of research studies to power-up the development of women leaders. As part of that initiative, we have embarked on two separate projects to uncover evidence-based practices that companies and boards could implement to support the advancement of women in corporations.

The topic of gender diversity remains as one of the top agenda of companies. In spite of the best efforts made to support the advancement of women at work, women continue to be under-represented at every level of organisational leadership. According to a report co-published by McKinsey & Co and LeanIn in 2015, it will take 25 years for organisations to reach gender parity at the senior-VP level and more than 100 years for the same parity to be reached in the C-Suite if nothing is done to further support the career progression of women[i].

To better understand issues surrounding the advancement of women at both the leadership pipeline and at board level, the Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI) partnered the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School and BoardAgender to examine some of the possible underlying reasons.

HCLI – NUS Business School research partnership

Based on extensive literature review and in-depth qualitative interviews with 30 senior female business executives, we identified the below four key underlying reasons that explain why women continue to make slow career advancement despite initiatives that companies have implemented to effect change:

  1. Adverse evaluations that arise from unconscious biases that exist in workplaces
  2. Lack of an effective internal strategic network that limited the corporate visibility of women to senior executives and career sponsors.
  3. Gendered expectations about women that resulted in a catch-22 leadership situation where there are conflicting beliefs among stakeholders about the “right leadership style” that female executives should adopt at work.
  4. Balancing career aspirations with family responsibilities.

The full report is expected to be ready by end April 2017.

HCLI – BoardAgender partnership

The glass ceiling for women directors is cracked but not yet broken. Women are making slow and steady progression at boardrooms. The Diversity Action Committee (DAC) released a report in October 2016 stating that as of June 2016, women held 9.7% of directorships in all publicly listed companies on Singapore’s Stock Exchange (SGX)[ii]. Although this figure is higher than the 8.8% in 2014, it is rather dismal given that it is still significantly lower than the ambitious 35% - 40% target set by the Scandinavian countries. Much of this slow progress can be attributed to biases that crept in during the process of identifying, nominating, and selecting new directors, as well as the lack of visibility of potential women directors.

Based on in-depth qualitative interviews with more than 40 interviewees (chairmen of boards, members of nominating committee, women directors, chief HR officers, and diversity advocates), we attempt to explain why women are underrepresented at board level and propose evidence-based solutions on how progress can be made.

The full report is expected to be ready by end June 2017.

We hope that both research reports will help build better awareness of gender diversity at work, and generate conversations among stakeholders about the importance building a diverse talent pool in today’s talent-starved world.


[i] McKinsey&Company, & LeanIn (2015). Women in the workplace 2015.

[ii] Singapore’s Diversity Action Committee (2016). Women on Boards. Tacking the issue. 

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