Moving the Dial on Board Diversity

Last Friday, we hosted our seventh 30% Club Boardroom Lunch which provides an opportunity for accomplished women to showcase their expertise and credentials face-to-face with board directors and senior company representatives for simulated boardroom discussions on key issues facing boards today.

This event would not have been possible without the dedicated support from our Lead Sponsor Standard Chartered, Contributing Sponsors KPMG and Swire and all our Table Sponsors. Thank you also to Irene Lee, Chairperson of Hysan Development Company Limited and Chair of the 30% Club HK, Lily Cheng, Founder of Hubel Labs who sits on several company boards for joining an interactive fireside chat on how to empower rising talent, and to Tim Payne, Steering Committee Chair of the 30% Club HK and Head of Asia for Brunswick for moderating the discussion.

This Lunch serves an important role in breaking down some of the closed circle networks which are often used to fill board appointments and forms a small part of our long-time efforts for more diverse corporate boards since we launched the 30% Club Hong Kong in 2013.

Even with incremental improvements in the last seven years, Hong Kong still lags far behind other global financial centres with only 13.5% directors of Hang Seng Index company boards being female, while the UK is at 32% and Australia at nearly 30%. Hong Kong is now consistently outperformed by others in Asia including Singapore at 15%, Malaysia at 23% and Thailand at 20%.

This is despite the overwhelming evidence that greater board diversity – especially gender diversity – improves governance, decision-making, and the bottom line.

In 2017, TWF and 30% Club HK led a call to action for broader reform of the listing rules to support greater gender diversity on Hong Kong boards. In 2019, we are now starting to see results –not in terms of numbers, but from key stakeholders that play a pivotal role in the wider ecosystem to drive change. A few highlights:

  • May 2018: 12 leading financial institutions overseeing up to US$7 trillion of assets joined together to launch The Board Diversity Hong Kong Investor Initiative supporting the aims of the 30% Club
  • October 2018: The Chief Executive’s Policy Address issued a call to all listed companies to appoint more women to their boards
  • January 2019: The new requirements under Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited's (HKEX) Corporate Governance Code mandating that listed companies have a diversity policy came into effect
  • May 2019: HKEX issued groundbreaking new guidance requiring companies seeking to list on the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong to provide additional disclosures on board gender diversity. Where a listing applicant has a single gender board it will need to explain how and when it will achieve board gender diversity, what measurable objectives it has set to implement gender diversity and how it will develop a pipeline of female directors
  • August 2019: Hang Seng Index giant, Tencent, appointed its first female board director

And the message is clear: from our regulators, investors, and largest companies. Hong Kong is moving and it’s now time for all listed companies to take action to ensure we have diverse boards that start looking more like our communities and the breadth of talent within them.

Given global uncertainty, trade wars, political upheavals and ubiquitous disruption – there is no more critical time than now to have effective decision making in our companies, to have alternative perspectives at the board table and to have strong and diverse boards in Asia’s world city.

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Written by

The Women's Foundation