In Focus
ECONOMY | Staff Reporter, Hong Kong

Gender equality not yet the norm among top Hong Kong firms

The glass ceiling’s still too low for Hong Kong’s women executives.

A new report by Standard Chartered Bank and Community Business reveals that only 9% of all board positions in Hong Kong’s leading companies on the Hang Seng Index are held by women.

Among the astonishing findings uncovered by the report: only one company has a female Chair (China Resources Power Holdings Company Ltd) and one company has a female CEO (Hang Seng Bank Ltd).

The report entitled, Standard Chartered Bank Women on Boards: Hang Seng Index 2012, provides a census of women directors on the boards of Hong Kong’s leading companies, as well as a ranking of these companies in terms of the gender diversity of their boards.

The report was sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank and was only the second such study of HSI companies.

It is designed to raise awareness of the importance of gender diversity from a business perspective and stimulate discussion about what more can be done to increase the representation of women at this level.

The report shows that out of a total of 634 directorships on the HSI, only 57 are held by women. This represents just 9.0% and is a nominal improvement since 2009 when a similar study showed that the figure was 8.9%.

These directorships are held by 50 different women. This percentage is comparable to other parts of Asia, but lower than the UK (15%), the USA (16.1%) and Norway (40.1%). Of 48 companies listed on the HSI, 28 companies (58.3%) have women on their boards. Conversely, this means 20 companies (41.7%) have no female representation at all.

In addition, 16 companies (33.3%) have more than one female director; 12 companies (25%) have female executive directors and 6.7% of all executive director roles are held by women. Of all new appointments made in 2011, just 10.1% were women. All these percentages are lower than 2009.

The report also includes a “Women on Boards League Table” that ranks the companies listed on the HSI in terms of the gender diversity of their boards.

At the top of the list is Hang Seng Bank which has five women (31.3%) on its board of 16. Bank of China Ltd is second with four women (26.7%) on its board of 15 and HSBC Holdings Plc is third with four women (23.5%) on its board of 17.

China Resources Power Holdings Company Ltd and China Construction Bank Corporation are in fourth place, each with three female directors (21.4%) on their boards of 14.

Jaspal Bindra, Standard Chartered’s Group Executive Director and CEO Asia, hoped this report will encourage more companies to not only seriously consider the gender makeup of their boards, but also the levels of diversity throughout their entire organisation by recognising the genuine business benefits which result from greater diversity.

“Hong Kong has no lack of talented, qualified and ambitious women but it would seem that current board appointment processes are ignoring their potential contribution.” said Kate Vernon, co-author of the research, and Managing Director and Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Community Business.

“As companies appoint directors to their boards, they are encouraged to think strategically - ensuring they have a diversity of perspectives that better reflect their key stakeholders, namely their shareholders, customers and employees. In so doing, they will naturally open up more possibilities for women.”

This report concludes that female representation on boards continues to remain low in Hong Kong and much more needs to be done.

“This is an important subject for Hong Kong and merits a much higher level of public awareness and public discussion. There is clearly much that Hong Kong can learn from international experience and openness to the exchange of ideas on this critical issue is essential if progress is to be made,” said Founder of Community Business, Shalini Mahtani.

“Community Business calls upon government, investors, corporate and industry associations, chambers of commerce, companies and executive search firms to engage in dialogue, work together and identify specific measures that can be introduced to build the pipeline of ‘board-ready’ women and increase the representation of women in Hong Kong's boardrooms.”

“We are proud to support this work which not only confirms the continued challenge we face but also provides a better understanding of what more can be done,” said Benjamin Hung, CEO of Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong).

In a volatile economic climate, companies have an opportunity to renew trust and confidence in the market. Diverse perspectives help bring more clarity to board discussions and decisions and help assure that the status quo is challenged.”


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