For top Hong Kong accountant: childcare, flex hours to boost women in climbing corporate ladder

Half of Hong Kong accountants are women but so far only two presidents of the industry body are female in its 43 year history.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 January, 2016, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 January, 2016, 2:00pm

The newly elected president of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants urged the government and corporations to do more to help women break the glass ceiling so they can get to the top of the business world in the city.

Ivy Cheung Wing-han became only the second female president of the industry body in the more than four decades of its history. Half of the 40,000 member organisation are women, but the first woman president of the HKICPA, Susanna Chiu, was elected only three years ago.

Even though there are equal numbers of men and women at the entry level of professions and corporations, the board rooms or top chief executives are still dominated by men. Only 10 per cent of the directors in listed companies are women, compared with 17 to 40 per cent in countries outside Hong Kong.

“This showed the government and the companies would need to do more to encourage women to break the glass ceiling of the corporate world,” Cheung said.

A partner in KPMG, she said she has not experienced any discrimination in her professional life. The reasons why few women become directors or senior executives, she believes, are simply due to the fact that women traditionally have had to handle more of the family duties and childcare.

“If the companies and government can offer better child care and allow women to have flexible working hours to take care of their families and children, it would encourage women to climb higher in the corporate ladder,” she said. “A diverse board would benefit companies if we have directors with different gender, ages and background.”

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing in 2012 has introduced a rule to require companies to have a balance composition of board or otherwise they would need to explain why to investors. Three years on though, the number of female directors remain the same at only 10 per cent.

Even with the slow progress, Cheung opposed the idea of Hong Kong following some European countries such as Norway where it has a quota to require listed companies to have 40 per cent women on their company boards.

“I do not think we should require companies to have a mandatory quota for female directors as this would cut down the flexibility of companies. As long as the companies offer equal opportunities to both male and female staff and to give them more support for their family duties, we would be able to see more female directors in the long term,” she said.

Cheung, who graduated from Hong Kong’s Poly University with a degree in accountancy, joined KPMG in 1991 and has stayed there since. From 1997, she has been involved in a number of auditing jobs of mainland companies including the China Mobile.

“Back then, I spent about two third of my time in China in the late 1990s and I have been doing onsite audit for almost all provinces in China,” she said.

Cheung is married but does not have children, which allows her to concentrate on her work.

“This is a personal choice for women whether you want to emphasise your work or your family. There are some female colleagues who opt to quit the job after marriage. For me, I enjoy my work as an auditor which I found to be very important to the business world. I also enjoy doing my public duty at the HKICPA,’ she said.