With Carrie Lam as Hong Kong leader, will the door open for other women at the top?

The city’s next chief executive can be a role model, but females need more encouragement to enter politics and business

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 March, 2017, 8:34pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 March, 2017, 11:29pm

When Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor moves into Government House in July, she will be carrying with her not just luggage but the honour of being the first female leader to occupy the official residence.

With her post-election pledge to persuade more women to join politics, all eyes will be on Lam to see whether she will match her words with action. Sceptics have been quick to point out that her pledge was a verbal one, and absent from her election manifesto.

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“To the women of Hong Kong, I hope I will lead by example to encourage more women to take part in politics. To have comprehensive and stable political developments, we need more women to come out to take part in public services and politics,” she said on Sunday after winning the election.

On Monday, she reached out to the women again, saying that she planned to look for women to join her management team.

In 2004, the government set a target that the appointment rate of women to government advisory and statutory bodies should be 25 per cent. It was achieved the next year, and so the target was raised to 30 per cent in 2010. It was again raised to 35 per cent in 2015.

However, the latest actual appointments, as of December last year, stood at 31.7 per cent.

“Nothing in her election manifesto talks about increasing women’s participation rate. I hope she did not just make those remarks for public relations sake,” Suzanne Wu Sui-shan, chairwoman of the Labour Party, said.

“The problem is that many women are working part-time jobs and not making enough money. Where do they get the time and energy to take part in politics?”

In the current administration, none of the secretaries are women – after Lam resigned from her post as chief secretary, the government’s No 2 official, to run for the top job.

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Former Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said that women’s participation in both politics and the private business sector had always been low because of the lack of family-friendly features such as nurseries and breast-feeding facilities in workplaces.

“If you want to encourage women with children to work, you need to have nursery facilities in the workplace,” the veteran politician said. “There are no nursery facilities in Legco. If you want to have more young women take part in politics, you need to change their mindset and make it easier for them to do so.”

She also said that the rate of 31.7 per cent was still low, compared with 40 to 50 per cent in some European countries.

While some women in Hong Kong could regard Lam as a role model, Lau said, it was important for her to match her words with actions.

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According to a study last year by the 30% Club, an advocacy group founded to encourage the participation of women, the boardrooms of Hong Kong’s largest publicly traded companies were so dominated by men that the city’s corporate gender diversity ratio was worse than the world average.

Of the 50 components of the Hang Seng Index, only two companies met the group’s target of having women as a third of their directors.

Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen said that another study had shown that when a company hired a person, the management would look at whether the candidate had potential – if he was a man.

“But if the candidate is a woman, the management would look at how much actual accomplishment the woman has had,” she said of the treatment.

She hoped that as Hong Kong appointed its first female leader, private companies could be encouraged to do more to realise women’s potential, but take the first step to actively recruit more of them.