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What inspired you to become a professor?

 I have always been talkative and restless as a child and the only thing that could get me to sit down was a book in my hand. My late father was a librarian at the old Nanyang University (the predecessor of the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore) and I used to read ferociously at the university library while waiting for him to get off from work. Growing up, I was contemplating being either a librarian or a professor (or maybe a doctor, in accordance with my father’s wishes). However, since I love talking and enjoy sharing my thoughts on what I have read, being a professor seemed to me a rational choice 32 years ago. I have never looked back as I find myself often thrilled by the discourses I have with my students. While imparting what I know to my students, at the same time I am also learning from them. This, to me, is knowledge creation and it is the most exciting part of being a professor.

International Women’s Day is a tribute to the brave women who campaigned for women’s rights in the past. Which women have most inspired you in your life?

I am very inspired by the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo, who was the wife of the first prime minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. She was one of the smartest women in her time, topping the whole of Malaya (which included Singapore) and beating everyone in the 1936 Senior Cambridge Examination at the age of 16. She was also the first and only woman admitted to the very prestigious Raffles Institution at that time. Later, she went on to study at Girton College, Cambridge University and graduated with a first class in law in 1949. She became one of the very few female lawyers in Singapore. Even after her marriage, Madam Kwa never gave up her love for law and continued in her own legal practice, something which was unthinkable for an Asian woman married to one of the most powerful men of the land. She never overstepped her status as the First Lady, except to fight for women’s rights in Singapore. Together with other women’s activists in early Singapore, Madam Kwa was instrumental in the drafting and eventual passing of the famous Women Charter 1961 in Singapore, which, amongst other things, legislated for monogamy and protections for women from domestic violence. This was a feat considering that Singapore and surrounding neighbouring countries allowed polygamy until that time. Madam Kwa was truly a woman of wisdom and grit ahead of her time.

Why are there still so few female scholars conducting corporate governance research?

Research is something that requires a high-level of focus and big chunks of uninterrupted time. In general, female scholars are fewer than male scholars in most disciplines, not only in corporate governance research, because of the distractions from family commitments, especially when they are starting out in their career and at the same time starting a family. Once they lose that critical first few years of momentum to research and publish, female scholars may take a longer time to catch up in terms of promotion and making themselves known to the publishing circle. On the topic of corporate governance research, scholars in this area are mainly finance and legal scholars which traditionally have more male than female. That may explain the underrepresentation of female scholars in this area of research.

Why is there an underrepresentation of women in corporate leadership roles? (are they the same reasons?)

I co-wrote a paper with two scholars in the field of organisational behaviour on this topic a decade ago.[1] At that time, we identified six reasons why women may say no to being a corporate director, especially in the Asian context: networks, role models and mentoring, work-life balance, legal ambiguity, policies and cognitive behaviour. We postulated that women do not want to be seen as ‘ornamental directors’. Fast forward, things have changed over the last few years and some of the obstacles have been improved or removed. We are now seeing more women in corporate leadership roles today, e.g. Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM and Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle. To achieve equal gender representation takes time, especially to turn the tide of a phenomenon that is said to have existed 8000 years ago![2] Things are moving in the right direction, although faster progress can be achieved if more companies are willing to take conscious and concerted efforts to promote and practice gender equality in the workplace, including the boardroom.

What do you believe are the most effective strategies for organizations to foster an inclusive corporate culture that encourages gender diversity in leadership roles?

I think that sending a clear message that the organization strongly supports equal opportunities is important. Whenever an opportunity for advancement arises, it should be offered to all capable employees. There should also not be a “female discount” in terms of salary and compensation paid to a woman holding the same position and doing similar job. Most importantly, good leaders need to be groomed and organizations need to make concerted efforts to create and plan for a more diverse leadership pipeline, including identifying suitable candidates based on their talents and skills and giving them tasks that will help them to develop their leadership skills.

What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders looking to break into traditionally male-dominated industries in the fields related to corporate governance?

Women must be more confident and advocate for themselves. Time and circumstances should never be obstacles nor excuses for them not to act. Madam Kwa Geok Choo is a good example. She lived through the Second World War, and she never allowed her gender to curtail her desire to achieve excellence in the things she did. As a female, she could see loopholes in the law that were blind spots to men. She stood up and made the changes. Similarly, women scholars can contribute and make an impact in the area of corporate governance.

What future trends or developments do you anticipate in the area of women's representation in corporate governance and academia?

There are definitely more women scholars now in corporate governance research and academia compared to a decade ago. I am positive that women scholars in this area will grow in the future.

[1] Chris Rowley, J S K Lee and L L Lan (2015), ‘Why Women Say No to Corporate Boards and What Can Be Done: “Ornamental Directors” in Asia’, Journal of Management Inquiry, 24(2): 205-207.

[2] Marta Cintas-Peña and L G Sanjuán (2019), ‘Gender Inequalities in Neolithic Iberia: A Multi-Proxy Approach’, , 22 (4): 499-522.


Luh Luh Lan is an Associate Professor of Law at the National University of Singapore, Faculty of Law, and a Research Member of ECGI. She is also the Co-Director of the LLM (International Business Law) Programme at NUS Law School. She is and has been a board member of various scholastic and not-for-profit boards, including the Chair of the Global Corporate Governance Colloquia (GCGC) from 2018-2020. She currently sits on the boards of the International Corporate Governance Society and the Singapore Promote Mandarin Council. She specialises in company law, corporate finance law and corporate governance. She publishes widely in both law and business journals and is the author of "Essentials of Corporate Law and Governance in Singapore" published by Sweet & Maxwell, which was conferred the ASEAN Book Prize Award 2018 for "Best Academic/Professional Title" published by Sweet & Maxwell (Thomson Reuters).

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