Chamber chief says supply behind lack of women on HK boards

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 6:51am

When it comes to women board members, or rather the lack of them, it is more a supply-side problem than one caused by lax demand, says Chamber of Hong Kong Listed Companies chairman Lo Ka-shui.

Lo maintains that Hong Kong-listed companies do not discriminate against women, rather finding female candidates with the right credentials is often the problem.

To level the playing field and catch up with other financial centres, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing last month issued a consultation paper proposing companies make their boards more diverse in terms of gender and age. The consultation ended on Friday.

Lo told the South China Morning Post in an exclusive interview that the chamber, the only body representing listed companies in the city, supports the HKEx's plan to bring in new rules to match standards elsewhere, making board diversity a matter of corporate governance. This means companies will be mandatorily required to explain themselves if such a policy is not in place.

"It would be ideal to have people with different ages or gender to have a balanced composition on the board," Lo said.

He said the fact that in Hong Kong female directors make up only 10 per cent of the boards of listed companies has nothing to do with discrimination.

"Hong Kong is by far the most liberal city anywhere in the world. Just look at the number of senior female government officials," he said.

According to Lo, one has to be with a company for a long time to be promoted to the board but the corporate world in Hong Kong has seen active participation of women only in the past couple of decades, adding that even when companies seek to appoint more women to their boards, they just don't find enough candidates who fit the bill.

"But we expect this will change soon as we are getting to a stage where there are an increasing number of women who have been working for years in the same industry and would make fine directors. We are going to see more women being appointed as directors," Lo said.

While only 10 per cent of the city's directors are female, in the Western world it ranges from 20 to 40 per cent, says the HKEx consultation paper.

In fact, 40 per cent of Hong Kong-listed companies have no women directors at all, while 37 per cent have only one.

The Hong Kong Institute of Directors chairman Kelvin Wong Tin-yau said women are far less aggressive in the work- place than men and many of them also have to take care of their children and other family affairs.

"This may explain why we have so few female directors."

According to Wong, gender should not be the only concern in diversifying boards.

"Besides having more female directors, we should also have more directors of different ages and backgrounds."