Banking & Finance

Hong Kong’s finance sector behind China and Singapore in gender diversity, report says

Women make up only 26.3 per cent of almost 7,000 CFA charter holders in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 November, 2016, 10:10pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 November, 2016, 10:10pm

Women make up almost half the labour force in Hong Kong, but only a quarter of the members of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Institute are women, a report finds.

As a global financial hub, Hong Kong has almost 7,000 CFA charter holders – an international accreditation for finance and investment professionals – but only 26.3 per cent are women, according to a CFA Institute report. This is higher than the global average of 18 per cent, but lags behind countries such as Vietnam at 43 per cent, China at 31.3 per cent and Singapore at 29.2 per cent.

“There is clearly a lot of room to improve in Hong Kong,” Nick Pollard, managing director for the CFA Institute in Asia Pacific, told the Post. “We have to amplify that diversity is a good thing, not just for the social perspective, but from an investor and performance perspective as well.”

He pointed to a Credit Suisse report from 2014 showing companies with greater gender diversity have higher stock-market returns. Since 2005, companies with more than one woman on the board have seen a compound 3.7 per cent a year share price gain over those without any women.

But more women in Hong Kong and China are joining the CFA Institute, Pollard said, and this will translate into more women in the financial industry over time.

“Gender-specific barriers discourage women from entering the CFA professions,” finance professors Renée B. Adams, Brad Barber, and Terrance Odean wrote in an analysis in the report.

Part of the reason is the rigours of a career in financial industries, they said, as long working hours create tension with the traditional role of women in family and society.

Nearly two-thirds of women CFA members worldwide report being the primary carers of dependents, according to the CFA report.

“Women from financial services talk about their biggest hurdle being environmental, the culture that they’re working in, the expectations that are put on them,” Kirti Lad, Asia-Pacific director of board practise for executive search firm Harvey Nash, told the Post. “It’s not just a perception, it’s a reality.”

The financial services sector also has “cultural nuances” that make it difficult for companies to “want to embrace diversity or be more inclusive”, she said.

At the moment, we’re dealing with history. Investment in particular was perceived as a bit of a male bastion
Nick Pollard, managing director, CFA Institute in Asia Pacific

“At the moment, we’re dealing with history,” added Pollard, pointing to the historically male-dominated finance sector and college graduates who are men. “Investment in particular was perceived as a bit of a male bastion.”

There also exists a pipeline problem, Pollard said, as the CFA report found over 80 per cent of the institute’s members decided to pursue a finance career before they reached the age of 26.

According to the advocacy group 30% Club, women made up only 11.6 per cent of Hong Kong boards of directors, below the world average of 14.7 per cent. Boards of directors in the UK had an average 26 per cent representation from women and in the US and Australia the figure was at 23 per cent.

The 30% Club aims to have women make up at least 20 per cent of Hong Kong listed company boards by 2020, and for 12 companies in the Hang Seng Index with all-male boards to have at least one woman on their board by 2018.

In 2012 Harvey Nash set up a Women’s Directorship Programme in partnership with Hong Kong University (HKU) to provide professional development and mentorship for women in business.

The programme has seen 75 to 80 women graduate, one-third of whom have gone on to sit on external corporate boards, according to Lad.

Part of the solution is awareness about how gender diversity benefits investors and companies, as well as having employment practises that make women feel more confident, Pollard said. Working hours should also be more flexible to allow women to have a greater balance between their professional and private lives, he added.

More companies are also engaging in unconscious bias training, giving recognition to how perceptions about women play into hiring and talent development decisions, according to Lad. The industry is becoming more aware of “the persistence of biases that can hamper performance”, the CFA report said.

Lad said role models make a “huge difference”, including leading women and men who speak out for women.

Stephanie Hui, head of the merchant banking division in Asia Pacific ex-Japan for Goldman Sachs, said women in the industry should seek out mentors and build strong relationships with them.

“There will be ups and downs in the industry as well as your professional and personal life; be patient and think long-term,” Hui said. “Coach the next generation and pay it forward.”