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Sunday, Apr 02, 2023

Financial summit one big boy’s club as female leaders sidelined

Financial summit one big boy’s club as female leaders sidelined

As pandemic restrictions lift, indoor performances and dancing are back in Hong Kong. So is the finance world’s old boys club.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s David Solomon and Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman are set to join 25 other male speakers at the Global Financial Leaders’ Investment Summit, part of a slate of events signaling the resurrection of the financial hub after almost three years of strict Covid quarantines and a political crackdown by Beijing.

There are just four women in the lineup. Two -- Amundi SA’s Valérie Baudson and Citigroup Inc.’s Jane Fraser -- will be part of a panel on sustainable finance. BNY Mellon Investment Management’s Hanneke Smits will join a discussion on managing money in volatile markets. Laura Cha, the chair of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd., will make welcome remarks on the event’s final day.

The sessions about navigating and creating value through uncertain times and how technology is reshaping the future of finance will feature men only, as will the keynote addresses and fireside chat.

“How is it that in this day and age, 87 percent of the speakers at the conference are men?” Utpal Bhattacharya, a professor of finance at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said in an interview. With this summit, he said, the “good news is that Asia’s financial hub will be humming again. The bad news is that this hub will continue to be male dominated.”

Nearly half of the speakers come from US financial firms, where women hold roughly one in three C-suite roles. In Hong Kong’s financial sector, women make up more than half of entry-level positions, and one-third of senior management positions, according to research by PwC.

Among the one-third is Hang Seng Bank Ltd. Chief Executive Diana Cesar, who was previously CEO at HSBC Hong Kong. In 2020, Cesar and 15 other female leaders released an International Women’s Day video pledging to boost gender equality in finance. “Why wait?” she asked. “We can make a world without prejudice.”

Two years on, she and others in the clip, including Mary Huen, CEO of Standard Chartered (Hong Kong) and Amy Lo, Chief Executive of UBS Hong Kong, are absent from the summit’s line up. Standard Chartered Plc. CEO Bill Winters and UBS Group AG chair Colm Kelleher are both speakers.

Standard Chartered, Hang Seng and UBS didn’t respond to Bloomberg’s requests for comment, along with Goldman Sachs, Amundi, BNY Mellon and the Hong Kong Exchange. Citigroup and Morgan Stanley declined to comment.

“We are pleased to see a strong line-up of speakers at group chairman or CEO level to share their global perspectives,” organizer Hong Kong Monetary Authority wrote in an email. “The speaking arrangement is a result of discussions with potential speakers having regard to their availability and subject preference.”

The landscape in Hong Kong is changing, though. New stock exchange rules for instance require at least one woman on boards of listed companies. That will create more than 1,300 director positions exclusively for women by the end of 2024.

Cesar’s bank has the highest proportion of women on boards among Hong Kong’s blue-chip companies, at two thirds. That compares with an average of 17 percent for members of the benchmark Hang Seng Index in the third quarter of 2022, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

“In business schools, the gender ratio is 1:1; so why are those who rise to the top of the finance world disproportionately male?” said Bhattacharya, who also researches gender issues. “The problem is not with the education system, it’s after they graduate.”

Women held five more seats on the boards of companies in the Hang Seng Index in the third quarter from the previous three-month period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The average number of female directors rose to 1.9 from 1.8, out of an average board size of 11.1.

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