Lai See
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 1:27am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 1:27am

Numbers don't stack up for 30% Club's boardroom goals

BIO

Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.
 

The great and the good of Hong Kong society gathered at the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre to hear Mervyn Davies, Lord Davies of Abersoch, talk about the 21st Century Boardroom. But the real reason was to continue the 30% Club's assault on the corporate boardrooms which have long been a bastion confined largely to males.

The 30% Club is an outreach arm of The Women's Foundation, which specifically aims to increase the number of women on corporate boards. Lord Davies is something of a poster boy for the movement, given his close personal links to Hong Kong having been CEO of Standard Chartered Bank for a number of years, before subsequently becoming chairman. But he is also embraced by the organisation for the groundbreaking Davies Report, which focused attention on women in the boardroom when it was published in Britain in 2011. The aim of the club is to increase the number of women on corporate boards to at least 30 per cent. The task is a big one. At present women make up just 10.7 per cent of directors of Hong Kong-listed companies, while some 40 per cent of companies listed in Hong Kong have no women on their boards.

Maybe it was just lunchtime rhetoric but Davies said he found it "inconceivable" that Hong Kong was not leading the way on women's issues. Choosing his words carefully, he said: "I would say a lot of boards here have been groups of friends and groups of people that have known each other. And that was fine in the old days. But in today's world it's not fine." We are going through a phase in the world where women have more influence in the world generally, in politics, in buying, and consumer behaviour. "If you have a group of individuals that have the same skills, then you will not have a good board."

It was left to shareholder activist David Webb to make the point, albeit indirectly, that actions spoke louder than fine words, lunches and glossy reports. "When you left the board in 2009, 2 out of the 13 directors were women, and today 2 out of 21 are women so the percentages are going down. Can Standard Chartered not find suitable women to sit on its board?" Davies replied that women comprised 25 per cent of the non-executives on his board, which we believe sidestepped the issue somewhat.

Curiously, given his close involvement with the 30% Club, Davies admitted that after 34 years of marriage, "I do accept I will never understand women."

 

Superman gets cracking

Li Ka-shing still appears to get a kick out of start-ups. His venture capital firm, Horizon Ventures, since 2006 has invested in some 40 start-ups around the world including the likes of Skype, Siri and Facebook. His latest investment, US$15.5 million in Hampton Creek, is a start-up company which seeks to make substitute eggs. The firm aims to replace all factory-farmed eggs in the US, more than 80 billion eggs valued at US$213.7 billion. It is looking to sell its product to manufacturers of processed food such as pasta, cookies and dressings. It is part of a trend of fake food start-ups in Silicon Valley which have already attracted the likes of Bill Gates. These companies believe they can transform food the way Apple changed phones.

 

Pisa's Asia lean queried

There's been some excitement over a report that British schoolchildren are lagging so far behind their peers in Asia that even children from wealthy backgrounds are performing worse than the poorest students in China. These children are more than a year ahead of their peers in Britain. The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings is supported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The findings were for many years widely accepted and often the basis for national educational policy. But in recent years doubts have been mounting about the coherence and value of the test.

Academics became suspicious when, although Britain's Pisa ranking was falling behind the trend for maths and sciences, for example, in other tests it was trending higher. A number of academics have recently raised concerns. It turns out that children in different countries answer different questions. Answers are sometimes "modelled" to achieve "plausible values". One academic noted that, "I am not actually able to find two items in the Pisa tests that function in exactly the same way in different countries," and argued that the test shouldn't be used.

 

Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp.com

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