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Hong Kong firms ‘must do more’ to get women onto their boards of directors

Hong Kong firms ‘must do more’ to get women onto their boards of directors

Hong Kong-listed companies must improve the diversity of their boards by implementing policies to encourage gender neutral hiring, offering training to nurture female talent and facilitating networking and mentoring, a panel discussion has heard.
Hong Kong-listed firms must strive to get more women onto their boards of directors by implementing policies to encourage gender neutral hiring, offering training to nurture female talent and facilitating networking and mentoring, a panel discussion has heard.

Policies requiring external head-hunters to come up with a minimum amount of female representation on a board’s nomination committee can help accelerate the process, said Andrew Weir, regional senior partner of KPMG Hong Kong.

“The biggest frustration I have is that we want much more than stopping single gender boards, we want a minimum [female representation],” he told the panel hosted by Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX), operator of the city’s stock exchange, on Wednesday, which was International Women’s Day. “Ultimately, it is quota, or threat of a quota that moves the dial.”

Among the Hong Kong domiciled constituents of the MSCI All Country World Index the proportion with all-male boards has improved markedly to 17 per cent from 28.4 per cent in 2021, according to the latest report by the stock index compiler on board gender diversity.

The improvement comes after a new listing rule that came into effect on January 1 last year, mandating that companies with all-male boards introduce at least one woman within three years. Research shows greater board diversity can help firms make better decisions and improve governance, HKEX said.

About 800 listed companies had all-male boards before the new rule, meaning at least 800 women must be recruited to board-level positions by the end of 2024.

Hong Kong still trails Singapore’s 9 per cent, Japan’s 7 per cent and India’s 2 per cent ratios of companies with all-male boards.

Furthermore, women occupy only 16 per cent of all board seats in Hong Kong, well below the 25 to 46 per cent seen in western countries, Malaysia’s 31.6 per cent and Singapore’s 21.6 per cent.

Often, “invisible stereotypes” get in the way, as some recruiters judge men based on their potential, while women also have to demonstrate a track record, said Poman Lo, vice-chairman of Regal Hotels International.

“What we can do to really overcome this diversity challenge is to take gender out of the equation [in the recruitment policy], and be more transparent about the selection criteria for the board,” she said during the panel discussion.

Increasing female corporate leaders’ visibility in the media, creating mentoring programmes and networking opportunities will help, said Benedicte Nolens, head of the Bank for International Settlements’ innovation hub in Hong Kong.

Companies in the region also need to address the gender pay gap and inadequate levels of disclosure, analysts said.

Just 13 per cent of the 1,486 listed companies in 13 nations that make up the MSCI AC Asia Pacific index disclosed gender pay data, according to a BofA Securities report published on Monday. This compared with 35 per cent in Europe and nearly 20 per cent in the United States.

In the broader economy, the average gender pay gap in mainland China, at 28 per cent last year, was lower than the 35 per cent in India and South Korea’s 31 per cent, BofA’s analysts found, using data from the World Bank, United Nations and government agencies.

It was higher than Japan’s 22 per cent, the US’ 17 per cent, Singapore’s 14 per cent, Hong Kong’s 13 per cent and Europe’s 10 per cent.

Improving gender parity in management positions can increase economic prosperity globally, especially in developing nations, analysts at Moody’s Analytics said in a report this month.
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