Women in Singapore advance their presence in boardrooms

08 March 2021 Consultancy.asia 2 min. read

For the first time in modern history, the number of women in senior management of mid-market businesses worldwide has surpassed the 30% mark. Singapore is one of the globe’s more frontrunning countries with a percentage of 33%. 

When the global accounting and consulting firm began reporting on the number of women in senior management in 2004, the proportion of leadership roles held by females worldwide stood at 19%. Fast forward 17 years, and a long-term positive trajectory has seen that number rise to 31% over 2020.

Meanwhile, another significant landmark was reached in 2020, with nine in ten businesses worldwide having at least one woman in their senior management teams. By comparison, in 2017 that figure stood at two-thirds, with only 66% of businesses having at least one female leader.

Regional proportion of leadership roles held by women in 2021, and position relative to the 30% tipping point

According to Francesca Lagerberg, a leader at Grant Thornton, “Work by businesses on their diversity and inclusion policies is paying off. But it is also possible that the coronavirus pandemic has emphasised the importance of diverse leadership in times of crisis.”

However, “these gains can easily be lost,” she added, because “now more than ever, businesses need to stay focused on what is enabling women to progress to leadership positions, so that women move forward rather than back as a result of the global pandemic.”

Notably, all regions except for Asia Pacific (28%) have now surpassed the crucial 30% milestone. The region’s improvement since 2017 stands at three percentage points, with 2021 returning its proportion of women in senior management to the level seen in 2019, after a minor dip in 2020.


While the overall proportion of women leaders rose to 33% in Singapore, with a 2% increase year-on-year, after a 2% dip in 2020, there were a lower number of women across operational C-suite roles in Singapore compared to last year. The proportion of female CEOs was down 5 percentage points to 6% and female CFOs down 9 percentage points to 32%.

Change in the proportion of women in senior management across regions

However, the proportion of female CIOs was up significantly at 24% (+10 percentage points) and COOs were also up 4 percentage points to 24%. Key drivers of improvement in Singapore include initiatives such as providing mentoring and coaching, ensuring equal access to developmental work opportunities, enabling flexible working, creating an inclusive culture, and reviewing recruitment approaches. 

Sze Min Yu, a Partner at Grant Thornton Singapore said: “It is promising to see businesses in Singapore are focusing on employee engagement and inclusion, as the way we work has changed significantly due to the pandemic. As the economy starts to recover, it is critical for businesses to continue to work towards achieving gender balance.”