White Collar

After nearly a decade, Hang Seng Bank is still Hong Kong’s sole blue-chip company with a woman CEO

Hong Kong lags behind when it comes to embracing gender diversity in top leadership roles at major companies

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 February, 2018, 4:23pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 February, 2018, 5:41pm

Hong Kong continues to maintain a gender bias in hiring for senior executive roles, as only about 10 per cent of director positions are occupied by females, while the CEO role is pretty much a men-only club.

Meanwhile, other leading economies have made major progress in dismantling the glass ceiling on career advancement for women. In the US women make up about 17 per cent of director positions, while in Europe the figure is about 40 per cent.

In some instances, quotas have been in place to help ensure gender parity, with Norway and France notable examples.

However, in the UK, where no quotas exist, women occupy about 26 per cent of directorship roles in listed companies.

This shows cultural mindsets play an important role in lowering the gender barriers, as do compliance requirements.

Still, when it comes to Hong Kong, gender bias has led to a remarkable distortion among the top corporate positions. Louisa Cheang Wai-man, of Hang Seng Bank, ranks as the only female CEO among the city’s 50 blue-chip companies.

Hang Seng has a track record of employing women in the CEO role for almost a decade, even as its parent HSBC has yet to break with its male-only tradition

Before Cheang took the top job in July last year, Rose Lee Wai-mun had been chief executive for five years. Lee was preceded by Margaret Leung who helmed the bank for three years. The lender so far has had three successive women chief executives.

Diversity also applies to its general staff, where women occupy about 60 per cent of the 9,929 positions in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Among the managerial level, women make up 53 per cent of the bank’s 2,556 positions in the two jurisdictions.

The male domination seems out of place in a city where both men and women are encouraged to achieve academic and career success.

This begs the question, why is Hang Seng Bank among the only blue chip company to demonstrate such a progressive attitude in hiring women at the board and CEO level?

Cheang told White Collar that she had never faced gender discrimination throughout her career, having encountered a culture of equal opportunity for women and men.

So, it appears that the problem is not the companies themselves.

Headhunters say that often men are more willing to take up a challenge when there is an offering of a top job, whereas in some instances, women tend to question whether they are capable to take on the job.

One takeaway is that a positive mindset can go a long way in helping to remove perceived barriers.

Possessing self initiative, and with the right encouragement, women can break through the glass ceiling. But it helps to keep in mind that no one is blocking the way.