Lai See

Are 'Golden Skirts' the answer to the boardroom gender gap

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 April, 2013, 4:13am


Related topics

The momentum for getting more women into the boardrooms of Hong Kong's listed companies shows no sign of letting up.

Earlier this year the Hong Kong Women's Foundation (TWF), together with leading head hunters, announced "a code of conduct for board searches" which was essentially an undertaking to adopt a more professional approach to selecting boardroom candidates. That is, rather than skimming though a list of the chairman's chums, to select on merit and with a view to increasing gender diversity on the board.

Last month saw the launch of the 30% Club in Hong Kong, which was another TWF initiative, an extension of the one started in London in 2010 to increase the number of women in boardrooms. Now TWF, together with the Ivey Executive MBA Programme in Hong Kong, has announced it will be offering three scholarships annually to outstanding women. Scholarship winners will get a 30 per cent reduction on the tuition fees, meaning they will "only" have to pay HK$616,000 for the EMBA class of 2015, which starts on August 3 this year. Those interested have until May 31 to apply.

The purpose of the scholarships is to prepare a pipeline of potential female directors in Hong Kong. Some 40 per cent of listed companies here have no women on their boards, while a further 37 per cent have just one. In the United States the figure is 16.1 per cent, 15 per cent in Britain, 8.4 per cent in Australia and 8.5 per cent on the mainland. It has been estimated in the UK that at the present rate of progress it is going to take something like 70 years to achieve gender balance, leading some to consider that the Norwegian approach may be no bad thing.

As of 2002, listed companies in Norway were required by law to ensure that 40 per cent of board seats were filled by women. This has given rise to the so-called 'golden skirts' whereby a relatively small number of women hold a large number of board seats. Is this what we need in Hong Kong to kick-start the process?



We recently noted the change of finance director at Dairy Farm, with the Keswicks persuading Neil Galloway to leave the Kadoories' Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels. We wonder if the alteration in personnel was connected to the item in its recent results announcement relating to Malaysia: "Complementing its continued organic growth, Dairy Farm entered the new markets of Cambodia and the Philippines through acquisitions. Its contribution was, however, held back by the reversal of US$59 million supplier income in Malaysia incorrectly accrued in prior years."


Better the devil you know

Public sentiment is a fickle thing. Li Ka-shing has become accustomed to being viewed as "superman" by the public at large on account of the seemingly magical ease with which he accumulates wealth. But yesterday the dockworkers camped outside the Cheung Kong Centre in Central taunted him, since he is the ultimate controlling shareholder of Hutchison International Ports, by depicting him as a devil. This recalls his spat with the Catholic Church in 2010 when he forced the church to issue an apology after a priest called him the "real devil" for supposedly selling properties at "inflated prices".


An insult to capitalism

CLSA's US bank analyst, Mike Mayo, was in full cry at the Citi AGM, having bought shares so that he could attend the meeting. Mayo reckons that the sum of the parts is worth US$75 a share, two thirds more than the current share price.

But chairman Mike O'Neill was adamant that Citi would not be broken up, Forbes reports. "Dismembering it in an uneconomic way does not strike me as looking after your interest in the best way," he said.

This year shareholders were in a better mood than last year when they voted down former chief executive Vikram Pandit's US$15 million pay package. This year's executive pay package was approved by 90 per cent of shareholders. Mayo observed: "Citi had the highest CEO pay over the last decade but with the worst bank performance. That was an insult to capitalism."