15 February 2019
Hong Kong companies have been found wanting when it comes to elevating women to board-level positions, a study shows. Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong companies have been found wanting when it comes to elevating women to board-level positions, a study shows. Photo: HKEJ

HK firms slow in rectifying gender imbalance in boardrooms

As the world marks the International Women’s Day, a study has shown that Hong Kong is not doing well in terms of improving the gender imbalance in corporate boardrooms.

According to non-profit organization Community Business, female directors on the boards of major Hong Kong-listed firms were up just 1.3 percent in number as of January 2, compared to the level a year ago.

Examining the boards of Hang Seng Index constituent firms, it becomes clear that little progress has been made in terms of improving the gender imbalance at the board level, the group said.

As a multicultural and diverse community, Hong Kong fails to include talented women at the board level, with only nine female board directors within the 80 available posts last year, Community Business said in a report, according to the Hong Kong Economic Journal.

As of January 2, women made up about 12.4 percent of the board members at top listed firms, compared with 11.1 percent a year ago.

The report shows that only ten among the Hang Seng Index component companies have women constitute 20 percent or more in the proportion of board directors.

One good news, however, is that the number of companies with all-male board members has dropped to 11 from 16 a year ago.

Although change is taking place, it is way too slow. In comparison to 2009 figures, when 8.9 percent of board members were women, the number has only grown by 3.5 percent in eight years.

That is in contrast to UK, where female board members among the FTSE 100 companies on the London Stock Exchange have tripled to 26.8 percent since 2009.

Also, companies there are aiming to take that number to 33 percent by 2020.

In Asia Pacific regions, Malaysia has overtaken Hong Kong, with the percentage of female board members having risen to 14.6 percent, from 9.7 percent four years ago, although the number is still lower than the statutory requirements of 30 percent.

Steve Mullinjer, the regional leader at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles which has sponsored the research report, points out that Hong Kong lags behind in gender equality in the Asia Pacific region for two main reasons.

One, there is an insufficient number of qualified women in the field. And next, even when you have qualified candidates, they are often not promoted due to their gender.

Mullinjer says a multi-racial, multi-cultural, and gender-balanced board can help companies make better business decisions and improve their profitability.

In related news, MasterCard has launched the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs. The report places Hong Kong at the third place with 82.2 percent, trailing Singapore (83.3 percent) and New Zealand (82.6 percent), in terms of having the environment for female business starters.

In terms of overall ranking, the first three are New Zealand, Canada and the United States. In the Greater China region, Hong Kong ranks higher than Taiwan and China.

[Chinese version 中文版]

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