• Thu
  • Nov 27, 2014
  • Updated: 2:48pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

Work needed to ensure more women thrive in male-dominated industries

Su-Mei Thompson says employers, officials and men all have a part to play to ensure more women flourish in male-dominated industries in HK

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 February, 2014, 5:12pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 February, 2014, 6:06pm

Many industries - even sectors that have been traditional male bastions - are now focusing on how to attract and retain women and help them rise to senior management.

There are various reasons for doing so. In the financial sector, studies have shown that female traders produce superior returns to men over the long term and, in the wake of the recent financial crisis, there is also an urgent need to bring a diversity of perspectives to decision-making. Women are also thought to be more risk-averse. In technology, the key driver is the growing shortage of talent.

A new Economist Intelligence Unit report examines opportunities and challenges for women in four key male-dominated sectors in Hong Kong: luxury brands, logistics and transport, technology, and trading and hedge funds. It found that more and more companies are focusing on the crucial issue of how to support women through the child-bearing years, introducing measures such as flexible working arrangements and extended maternity leave.

The issue of quotas for the hiring and promotion of women remains controversial, but a number of companies have moved towards targets that create a sense of urgency and help with measuring progress.

Companies are also realising that, to help women, they need men to support and even champion change. One unresolved issue is how women can network in male-dominated industries, where important relationships are often formed through male-centric activities such as after-work drinking sessions and rounds of golf. A few companies are trying to create opportunities for women to network in an environment where they feel more comfortable. Mentorship programmes are also seen as critical for women's advancement.

Improving the participation rates for women in male-dominated industries will not be easy. As the research makes clear, there is no single issue that , if rectified, could raise rates across sectors. In some cases, such as luxury brands, women are attracted to the industry but drop out at a certain level of seniority, often as they plan to start a family.

With technology, the problem stems from false assumptions - that women are not interested and have less aptitude for maths and science. In other sectors, such as transport and trading, recruitment is the problem, with many women believing these sectors are unsuitable for, or hostile towards, them.

Improving women's participation in these industries will require action on all fronts. For companies, the first step is a self-assessment: where are the women within the organisation and if they are not rising to management ranks, why not? This must be followed by a commitment to change and a detailed action plan that should include enlisting senior women as role models and mentors.

The government has a role to play as well. It could begin by acknowledging that current provision of parental leave is insufficient. A concerted effort to encourage girls to pursue maths and science subjects would also seem to be urgently required.

Su-Mei Thompson is CEO of The Women's Foundation. This article is part of a monthly series developed in collaboration with the foundation. The report, "Work to do: Women in male-dominated industries in Hong Kong" is available at: http://www.economistinsights.com/leadership-talent-education/analysis/work-do

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