Powering the Drive towards Gender Equality
Mrs Betty Yuen So Siu Mai, Vice Chairman of CLP Power Hong Kong and a member of the HKUST Business School Advisory Council, says neither she nor her company needs to be convinced about the merits of employing a diverse workforce. “We have embraced diversity for some time, and the benefits are no longer in question. The challenge now is to achieve a better balance,” Yuen says.
Mrs Yuen says that her perspective on the issue has been shaped by international studies which show that if an organization has a diverse workforce and management team, its performance improves. But her view is also based on first-hand experience. Yuen says she and her colleagues have observed that the more diverse teams within CLP have performed better than the more homogeneous units.
This has led the company to take steps to increase diversity. Such steps range from actively recruiting members of the disabled community, and installing the facilities and infrastructure to support them, to promoting a policy of inclusivity towards LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) staff. Achieving more gender diversity within CLP has also been a strategic focus. But this goal must be seen within the context of a power generation and supply industry that has long been dominated by men, Yuen notes.
Closing the gender gap
“We employ a lot of engineers and technicians, and the bias has always been towards employing many more males in these roles,” Yuen says. This is partly because the manual element of a technician’s work involves cables and overhead lines, and therefore requires physical strength. But Yuen accepts this imbalance extends to less hands-on roles. “Traditionally in Hong Kong, fewer women have gone into the technical and engineering fields. They have tended to study accountancy, law and medicine,” she says.
But the gender gap is narrowing within CLP. “If you look at the higher reaches of our organization, you see there are more and more women, especially outside the technical field. Also, in recent years, we have worked hard to recruit more female engineers,” Yuen says.
Over the last 25 years, the overall balance of the CLP Group workforce has shifted from 90 per cent male and 10 per cent female, to 76 per cent male and 24 per cent female. “In Hong Kong the ratio is now about 80 to 20 per cent,” Yuen says.
She adds that 21 per cent of the board, and 31 per cent of the general executive committee, are female. At manager level the figure is 25 per cent, while at professional level, it’s 22 per cent. “We employ a lot of technicians, though, and they are still predominantly male,” Yuen adds.
“We’re trying many different ways to encourage women to join our industry. We have mentorship programs with universities, in which our female engineers mentor younger students. We also go into high schools to encourage more girls to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects,” Yuen says.
CLP has set itself some ambitious targets, and even published them, Yuen explains: “By 2030, we want women in 50 per cent of our leadership positions (the top six per cent of the workforce).” Today, the figure is only 22 per cent. “We also want 30 per cent of our engineers to be women by then. Today, the figure is only nine percent. We have, however, already achieved our goal of establishing gender pay equity,” Yuen says.
The company is establishing the processes and policies needed to realize these goals, such as the requirement that 50 per cent of candidates considered for a position must be female. CLP is also bolstering its family-friendly initiatives. “We’ve just increased the length of our maternity leave from 10 to 16 weeks. We provide breast-feeding facilities, and we have a flexi-hours policy,” Yuen says.
But when it comes to performance rewards and promotion, there will continue to be no bias towards either sex, Yuen emphasizes.
Superior soft skills
While women are just as capable of attaining technical skills as men, their soft skills, such as communication, are often stronger than those of their male counterparts. “In terms of getting the group to brainstorm and come up with ideas to resolve challenges, they add another dimension. Women tend to try to accommodate other people’s point of view,” Yuen says.
She’s seen these dynamics in action in her own career, Yuen notes. While the concept of ‘face’ has not been an issue for her, it has sometimes been a big deal for men, she says. “The male ego can sometimes get in the way during negotiations. It’s a generalization, but women tend not to take things so personally,” she adds.
Yuen’s advice to young women starting out on their career paths is to be brave and trust your instincts. She believes that stating her own opinions, rather than simply echoing the views of her bosses, helped her rise to her current position. “At times I’ve taken quite bold steps, even when my superiors didn’t necessarily agree with me, because I’ve wanted to do what I felt was the right thing for the company. To be a leader you need to be an independent thinker, and you need to be decisive,” she says.