Singapore has fewer women in boardrooms than China

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Despite having a high workforce participation rate for women and one of highest literary rates for women in the region, Singapore significantly lags global peers in the number of females on the boards of its publicly-listed companies, a new study found.

Of the 677 Singapore Exchange (SGX)-listed companies studied, 7.9 percent of board directors were women, a report by National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School and BoardAgender showed.

While, this is a slight improvement from 7.3 percent and 6.9 percent in 2012 and 2011, respectively, Singapore is far behind regional and developed nation peers.

(Read more: Want to outperform? Put women on your board)

Female representation in boardrooms stood at 9.0 percent in China, 9.4 percent in Hong Kong, 11.6 percent in Indonesia and 15.8 percent in Australia, according this year's study.

"The bleak data on Singapore is a surprise considering the country is known for meritocracy and provides both men and women equal opportunity in both education and employment," said Kelly Teoh, market strategist at IG.

At the current rate of improvement, it will take until 2026 for Singapore to catch up to regional benchmark Australia - that is, if Australia remains at current gender diversity levels, the report said.

Most developed countries recorded a rate above 15 percent, with 16.6 percent in the U.S. and 17.0 percent in the European Union. Scandinavian nations Finland, Sweden and Norway, meanwhile, ranged between 27 and 41 percent.

(Read more: Top boardrooms: No-go areas for women, minorities)

Why Women Make Boardrooms Better

In an analysis of the relationship between the proportion of female directors and firm performance, the study found that more gender diversity had a positive effect on return on assets (ROA) and return on equity (ROE), but not stock market returns.

Board diversity was also positive for corporate governance. Companies featuring above-average female board representation scored higher on factors such as transparency and investor relations as well as accounting and auditing.

"Bringing this back to the financial situations where investors find that stock prices no longer justify valuations, they will now be able add another measure to the growth potential of a company by looking at the quality and diversity of its board members," said Teoh.

(Read more: South Korean women struggle in workforce)

—By CNBC's Ansuya Harjani; Follow her on Twitter:Ansuya_H