‘Having women on boards is good for women, good for the economy and good for society. A win-win-win outcome: how rare’. Noreena Hertz, Economist and author
International Women’s Day is nearly upon us. Under the theme #ChooseToChallenge, it encourages us to reflect on all we have achieved by standing up to gender stereotypes, tackling inequalities and raising awareness about bias. But it also gives us pause to consider the challenges we continue to face.
Hong Kong’s journey towards becoming a more gender equal city has been slow and the glacial progress on board diversity has been particularly disappointing. The number of women on boards of Hang Seng Index companies is very low (13.7%), lagging far behind both global financial centres and regional neighbours, while others make progress. More disturbing is the fact that approximately one third of all listed companies in Hong Kong are still without a single woman on their boards.
This is simply not good enough.
Increasing the number of women on boards not only improves decision making and the bottom line, it is a fundamental aspect of good governance and delivers benefits for society. Having more senior women as role models filters down through the whole economy and can help on wider debates such as pay equity, workplace policies and other critical barriers facing women.
Given the changes wrought by COVID-19, it is critical that we have diverse boards that ask the right questions, but also raise different questions. Our boards and management must start looking more like our communities, representing the breadth of talent within them, safeguarding Hong Kong’s standing as a global financial centre and enabling female talent to serve at the highest levels of leadership.
It’s time for action. We must aim for 50% women on our boards. To get there, we need meaningful targets of 25% by 2025 and 30% within six years which, if not met, should be mandated through quotas. Companies need diversity policies with measurable objectives to achieve their goals, creating accountability through regular and transparent reporting. This holistic approach will increase the number of women on boards, strengthen the pipeline of female directors, advance diversity across our companies and ultimately strengthen our city.
Beyond gender parity on listed company boards, more action is needed to tackle gender inequality on private company boards, where the situation is often worse. We know, for instance, in the US that 49% of late stage company boards are all-male.
We can’t do this alone. Companies, regulators, government, investors and stakeholders must all come together and commit to action. Because what we commit to gets actioned and when we work together, we can achieve the seemingly impossible.
Let’s mark this year’s IWD with meaningful change to Hong Kong and #ChooseToChallenge the gender inequalities that prevent us from thriving.
Get in touch at Fiona.Nott@twfhk.org.