Women split over quotas on listed company boards

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am


Female high-fliers were divided over whether a mandatory quota of women on the boards of listed companies would be a step towards improving gender equality in city workplaces.

Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang told a forum on gender issues: 'Quotas may be necessary for the time being - to change the culture and change public perception of what women can and should do. It's important to build up that critical mass [of women] who are in top positions.'

But Claudette Christian, co-chair of the board and a partner at law firm Hogan Lovells, disagreed. She said quotas would allow companies to shirk the duty of genuinely investing in women and that they would end up with 'token women' who were there just to fill the quota.

The views were expressed at a panel discussion organised by Breaking Barriers, a networking platform for professional women set up by Hogan Lovells.

The South China Morning Post was the media partner at the event in Central. The debate on a quota system was triggered by the Post's special projects editor Cliff Buddle, who was moderator. He pointed out that some European countries set quotas for public companies to appoint women to their boards.

In Norway, more than 40 per cent of the boards of listed companies are women. It introduced a 40 per cent mandatory quota in 2003, when just 7 per cent of boards were women.

Only 9 per cent of board members at the 48 Hang Seng Index listed firms are women, according to a study by Standard Chartered and the Community Business non-governmental organisation.

When asked whether such a quota would work in Hong Kong, Chan said: 'We don't know until we try.'

Tisa Ho, executive director of the Hong Kong Arts Festival, and Simona Paravani, HSBC's global chief investment officer for wealth, also took part.

Speakers discussed the need to invest in the next generation of women and amend corporate practices to allow them to develop on an equal footing with men. 'It's important for companies to realise diversity only strengthens them,' Christian said.