Legislative Enforcement Key to Narrowing Gender Diversity Gap in Business

There has been a slight year-on-year decline in the proportion of women in senior management positions across the Asia Pacific, reveals the Grant Thornton International Business Report, released on the eve of International Women’s Day.


The average is 25% which is a 4% drop from 2013. It is almost identical to the global average of 24%. Across the world and in the region, there are three times more male senior executives than female.


“The IBR results are discouraging in that the gender gap between men and women in senior executive positions has enlarged in 2014," comments Joyce Lee, audit director at Grant Thornton Hong Kong.


"Despite the advocacy from international institutions such as World Economic Forum and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to promote gender diversity in the workplace, no progress has been made in the last seven years (global average of 24% recorded in 2007).”


The IBR research also looked at whether the business community would support legislative measures to grow the number of women in senior management roles. The results indicate that China ranked the highest (85%) for agreeing that quotas should be introduced for the number of women on executive boards of large listed companies. While the average support across the region was 57%, strong need was expressed in Hong Kong (55%), Singapore (56%) and Taiwan (70%).


Lee said: “There is currently no formal corporate governance policy or requirement for the number of senior women executives in developed regions like Singapore and Taiwan. Their regulatory bodies have openly supported having more women in senior roles, but our report reflects that it has not translated into women reaching senior positions. We are very pleased to see that Hong Kong Stock Exchange has implemented a new rule as part of its corporate governance code requiring companies to ensure they have a more diverse board composition in terms of gender, knowledge, age and background in September 2013. It is crucial to have enforceable regulations in place in order to gain actual impact upon execution.”


“It is also important to see wider support from the local business community. For example, the 30% Club in Hong Kong, set up by various chairmen and business leaders, is an excellent initiative to help bringing more women to the boardroom of listed companies. The community must work together to raise the awareness of the issue and together make the change happen,” added Lee.


Incentivise working mothers to stay in workforce
In Hong Kong, people can work up to 65 hours per week. It is an acceptable social norm for Asian women to be the primary caretaker of the family. Therefore, it is not unusual to see women cutting back on their work hours after they have started a family. This can contribute to the lack of senior women executives in Hong Kong. To keep women in the workplace while juggling their family responsibilities and climbing the corporate ladder, companies need practical measures to help and to encourage working mothers to run at full throttle.


The difficulties working mothers may face staying in the workforce has been widely discussed in the community. According to the IBR, 64% of respondents in Hong Kong want flexibility regarding working hours and locations. It proves to be a major incentive to attract working mothers. This is closely followed by the opportunity to buy extra holiday time or take unpaid leave, favoured by 63% of respondents. 46% of them also wanted more mentoring and coaching.


“There are 560,000 women with university degrees in Hong Kong and many women want to make good use of their education and talent. Women are just as enthusiastic as men to take a strike in their career. To foster more senior women executives, legislative support such as reservation of job roles for women on maternity leave and paid childcare support should be instigated. Company initiatives such as flexible working hours and on-site childcare facilities for female should be considered. Working mothers should not need to choose between family and career,” Lee added.    


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