#BlueprintforAction – Increasing the pipeline of female leaders in Singapore

Nov 7, 2018 | BLOG

On 26 August 2019, BoardAgender together with Grant Thornton organised an event to increase awareness to the importance of gender parity in business, and suggest actionable steps that can be taken for a sustainable and more profitable business. The event was based on the 2019 Women in Business Report: Building a blueprint for Action by Grant Thornton and was held at the UBS Auditorium, in collaboration with the Singapore Institute of Directors. The keynote speaker was Chairperson and CEO of Grant Thornton, Philippines, Marivic Españo and the event was attended by 100 guests.

28% of companies and 52% of female respondents in Singapore say that businesses are not taking any action to improve gender diversity

After the welcoming address by Stephane Targui, Co-Head of FRC Asia Sales Banks & Corporates at UBS AG and after sharing her own her journey to leadership, Marivic highlighted that globally, 87% of businesses have at least one woman in senior management, but only 29% of senior positions are held by women. In Singapore, based on Grant Thornton’s research, 87% of businesses have at least one woman in senior position and 33% of the senior roles are held by women (see Figure 1.1).

Figure 1.1 Asia Pacific & Global Findings ©2019 Grant Thornton Singapore Pte Ltd. All Right Reserved   

Their study also showed that 75% of businesses globally are taking actions to improve gender diversity. In Singapore, of the companies who responded to the survey, 28% (of which 52% are female respondents) say they’re not doing anything to improve gender diversity.

Marivic noted that progress comes through deliberate action, that action plans must address specific gaps in each company’s situation, and that they should not be viewed as one-size-fits-all (see Figure 1.2).

Figure 1.2 Blueprint for Action ©2019 Grant Thornton Singapore Pte Ltd. All Right Reserved 

Marivic emphasised three points from the report actions:

  1. Business leaders must understand the importance of gender diversity so that it can influence from the top down.
  2. Knowing your diversity – understand the journey so that gaps can be identified.
  3. Development and advancement – businesses should provide female employees with actual experience. Coaching, mentoring, and role-modelling are all important factors to encourage more women to take on senior roles.

Marivic concluded that there is a need for business leaders to champion the case for gender diversity, and it is important to set goals to achieve real changes, so that it makes an impact. There is a need for more men to take an active role fighting this cause, not just women.

Action is required by all to improve board diversity in Singapore

After the keynote address, Marivic was joined by Lee Chong Kwee, Council Member of the Singapore Institute of Directors, Non-Executive Chairman of Mapletree Logistics Trust Management Ltd and Choo Oi Yee, Managing Director, Investment Banking and Head of Corporate Client Solutions at UBS AG Singapore in a panel discussion moderated by BoardAgender committee member, Karen Loon.

From left to right: Karen Loon, Marivic Españo, Lee Chong Kwee, Choo Oi Yee  

The panel discussion was lively and covered several areas on Grant Thornton’s Blueprint for Action and how this supports an increase in the number of women on boards in Singapore including:

  • The importance of building a strong pipeline of women leaders – corporations play a key role to strengthen the pipeline of women into senior management and board roles, through having unbiased hiring processes; investing in education (including awareness training for men on the challenges women face, as well as unconscious bias/inclusion training); and having sponsorship programmes.
  • The importance of women having strong family support for their careers including having a supportive spouse.  It is important to have courageous discussions about important decisions.
  • Women should be bold and call out inappropriate bad behaviour to senior management.
  • Whether boards including statutory boards in Singapore are looking widely enough for suitable candidates.
  • Women should be open to taking on director roles on statutory boards and not-for-profit organisations for experience.

The panellists also shared their advice for women aspiring to get onto boards.  This included:

  1. Women should be open to taking on director roles on statutory boards and not-for-profit organisations to gain experience.
  2. Be all-rounders – don’t just focus on getting roles in one industry.
  3. Have enough time to do board roles well.
  4. Be visible in front of decision makers.
  5. Do robust due diligence to understand the organisation before wanting to sit on the board

BoardAgender will be holding future events with other partners, is looking to further support women to build skills, and will be continuing to build more awareness to the benefits of board diversity.


Marivic Españo

Marivic Españo succeeded P&A Founder Ben Punongbayan as Chairperson of the Firm, even as she continues her role as Chief Executive Officer. Marivic brings to her post extensive experience in taxation and organizational management. She joined P&A Grant Thornton in 1997 and was admitted to partnership in 1999. She was appointed Head of Tax Division in 2003, which she headed for five years. In 2009, she expanded her role to Managing Partner and Chief Operating Officer, subsequently becoming Chief Executive Officer after two years.

As a practitioner, Marivic has wide-range experience in the field of taxation. She has provided comprehensive tax services to local and multinational clients, covering tax consultancy, outsourcing, expatriate tax services, tax compliance reviews and assesments. She has also conducted tax due diligence reviews for significant acquisitions and provided tax advisory services in the government’s privatization projects.

Prior to joining P&A Grant Thornton, she was a tax manager in a leading construction firm. Marivic served as chief legislative staff officer of the Senate Tax Study & Research office, and legislative liaison specialist of the Department of Finance, where she was actively involved in the formulation of significant tax legilations such as the expanded value-added tax and the comprehensive tax reform program.

Lee Chong Kwee

Lee Chong Kwee is a member of the MIPL Board and the Chairman of its Audit and Risk Committee as well as its Transaction Review Committee.

He is also the Non-Executive Chairman of Mapletree Logistics Trust Management Ltd (as manager of Mapletree Logistics Trust) and a Corporate Advisor to Temasek Holdings. Mr Lee was previously Non-Executive Chairman of Jurong Port Pte Ltd and also served on the Advisory Boards of the National University of Singapore Business School and The Logistics Institute – Asia-Pacific.

Mr Lee was formerly the Asia-Pacific Chief Executive Officer of Exel (Singapore) Pte Ltd and is a fellow of the Singapore Institute of Directors.

Choo Oi Yee

Choo Oi Yee is Managing Director, Investment Banking and Head of Corporate Client Solutions at UBS AG Singapore.

She has more than 19 years of capital raising and M&A advisory experience. Oi Yee joined UBS from Morgan Stanley where she was Head of Singapore Investment Banking. Prior to Morgan Stanley, she ran the Southeast Asia real estate investment banking franchise for Nomura. She started her investment banking career with Citigroup covering Singapore corporates and real estate clients.

Between 2006-2008, Oi Yee was Senior Vice President, Strategy and Business Development for Parkway Holdings Limited, the largest healthcare company in Asia, and helped them create Parkway Life REIT.

Oi Yee graduated from Nanyang Technological University with a Bachelor of Accountancy. She also has a Masters in Business Administration from Manchester Business School.


Karen Loon

Karen Loon is a Chartered Accountant with close to 30 years of international, cross-cultural experience working with banks, capital markets and wealth management players across Asia Pacific. She specialises in bank governance, risk management and controls; accounting, audit and financial due diligence; and talent diversity and inclusion.

Formerly PwC Singapore’s Banking and Capital Markets Leader, and a senior Financial Services Assurance Partner and client relationship partner, she is recognised for her work with listed local and multinational bank boards and C-Suites on bank governance, controls and risk management, audit and financial due diligence.

A passionate people and team leader, Karen is a recognised keynote speaker and panellist, and has been externally acknowledged for her work at PwC as its Asia Pacific and Singapore Diversity Leader in driving change programmes in talent diversity and inclusion.

Karen has 16 years of board experience with not-for-profit and professional bodies in Singapore. She is member of the Finance Committee of the Singapore University of Technology and Design, a member of the Board Diversity and Appointments Committee of the Singapore Institute of Directors, and a former Board Member of the Singapore Committee for UN Women.

She is a Fellow of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, a Graduate member of the Australian Institute of Directors, has a MBA from Macquarie Graduate School of Management, and a Certificate in Corporate Governance from INSEAD.