Few women on powerful boards

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am


The government is making progress on its pledge two years ago to ensure women hold at least 30 per cent of posts on each advisory board and statutory body - but on some influential committees women remain few and far between.

Women make up 1,814 of the 5,850 non-official members appointed to government advisory bodies, or 31 per cent, but some boards lag.

The Town Planning Board - responsible for key decisions on development - has just six women members out of 29. Just three of the 13 members of the Airport Authority are women, while just two sit on the 18-member board of the Urban Renewal Authority.

Despite the system's failings, the new chairwoman of the Women's Commission, Stella Lau Kun Lai-kuen, says the target should continue to be raised. 'Overall, women's participation in advisory and statutory bodies is on an increasing trend,' Lau, who took up her post in January, said. The commission believes appointments should be made on merit and that while there is no shortage of capable women, equality remains a work in progress.

Lau said various factors, such as the dominance of men in certain industries, meant the rate of women's participation remained low in some areas. But, 'in view of the long-term goal of achieving a balanced participation, we consider it necessary to raise the benchmark progressively, taking into account the actual circumstances of different [bodies]', she said.

The government first set a benchmark of 25 per cent in 2004 and raised it to 30 per cent in 2010.

A spokeswoman for the Development Bureau said that while the Town Planning Board did not meet the 30 per cent benchmark, 'we consider that it is more important to appoint the right candidates'.

'Nonetheless, for the following term, we will try to identify more suitable female members for appointment,' the spokeswoman said.

Lau said the commission was trying to encourage more women to participate and had written to women's associations and professional institutions. The letters advised the organisations to let their female members know they could submit their resumes to the central personality index system from which interested candidates were selected to serve on boards.

At a recent forum on the issue, former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang said mandatory quotas for women on the boards of listed companies were necessary to improve sexual equality in the workplace.

'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,' Chan said.

But Claudette Christian, co-chairwoman of the board and a partner at law firm Hogan Lovells, said quotas did more harm than good as they allowed companies to shirk the duty of genuinely investing in women. Boards would end up recruiting 'token women' to simply fill the quotas, Christian said.


The difference in the median monthly income for men (HK$12,000) and women (HK$9,000) in2010