SCMP Experiences

Women told to aim high and start networking

Time, financial literacy and expertise are key ingredients for those seeking seats on boards

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 November, 2013, 4:10am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 January, 2015, 12:33am

The next generation of women who want to sit on company boards ought to aim high and start positioning themselves for those roles now by networking and approaching headhunters, said senior female executives at the South China Morning Post's Women of Our Time conference yesterday.

The conference gathered women from a variety of businesses to discuss how companies can increase female participation in top-level management and their boards.

In March, the Women's Foundation, a non-profit organisation, set up an initiative called the 30% Club to push Hang Seng Index companies to increase women's board participation to 30 per cent from the current 10.7 per cent.

"Don't be afraid to try. The biggest problem for the next generation of women is aspirational," said Janet de Silva, the Asia dean at Ivey School of Business.

How do you know if you are ready to serve on a company board? The essential ingredients were time commitment, financial literacy and a high level of expertise in your own field, said Stratford Finance chief executive Angelina Kwan.

Kwan has sat on a number of boards, including the one she currently serves at Aviva Life Insurance.

Mid-career women should identify which kind of organisations - charity, private, for-profit or listed companies - they would like to serve and can typically work their way up in that order.

Kwan cautioned that even though best-practice guidelines suggested a six-year rotation for board members, many family-run listed firms did not change their members often, and women looking to join boards of public firms could face limitations.

Serving on a committee or a chamber of commerce was a good way to become known, said panellist and Hong Kong Polytechnic University chair professor of accounting Judy Tsui. She has acted as a regular consultant for the government on governance reforms of the stock exchange.

"As your reputation grows, people will ask you to join boards - first charities, then unlisted, then listed," Tsui said.

But there were two rules of thumb, Alice Au, board practice co-head at executive search firm Spencer Stuart, said at a separate women's panel a few weeks ago.

"Just one board. If you are in a full-time position, you cannot go on to more than one board. Second, you have to check out conflict situations," Au said.