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By Eva Chau, Group Head of Human Resources, HKEX

As the head of human resources at an icon of Hong Kong Inc., I look for leadership qualities first and foremost, while gender is not even a selection factor. This approach has resulted in us having a remarkable number of women in senior leadership positions.

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX) is a conduit for capital, a key link between globally important economies and markets. Hong Kong’s role as a global capital formation center with both international issuers and suppliers of capital is based on the strength of diversity. Diversity in culture and jurisdiction goes hand-in-hand with gender diversity.

Hong Kong already boasts high levels of diversity, and local conditions are conducive for even greater diversity, particularly in terms of women taking senior roles in the financial industry. We need to grasp these opportunities in order to maintain our position and leverage our competitive advantages.

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Setting an Example

In 2016, Morningstar, the US fund research firm, found that the Hong Kong finance industry was near the top of gender diversity global rankings with women making up 26% of fund managers and CFAs. In the UK women accounted for 13% of fund manager and 20% of CFAs, while in the US the numbers dropped to 10% and 16%.

I’m proud of how HKEX is setting an example on gender diversity. More than 40% of our vice presidents and senior vice presidents are women, and 38% of our management committee members are women, up from 17% one year ago. Our heads of listing and clearing, general counsel, chief financial officer, and chairperson of our board are all women. We offer a greater work-life balance than many financial industry companies do, with competitive maternity leave and work-from-home flexibility, which helps.

 

Lion Rock Advantages

Hong Kong has advantages over other Asian, and global, financial centers when it comes to attracting women to senior leadership roles, and having greater diversity, from the mail room up to the boardroom, is a proven winning business strategy.

Although Hong Kong is often described as a conservative Chinese society, it does not suffer from the deeply ingrained male chauvinism and machoism that have created a legacy of systematic discrimination against women in some Asian cultures. Hong Kong men have not always promoted gender equality, but by the same token they have not created systematic discrimination. Rather than face a particularly high level of negative bias in society, Hong Kong women have already for several generations been accepted as players in local business and politics. 

In many homes, cultural reservations over women in corporate careers has been wiped away by harsh economic reality—most middle class Hong Kong families can’t dream of buying a home without two full-time incomes.

Families in Hong Kong enjoy access to far more affordable child care than is available in most other financial centers. Whether families hire overseas domestic helpers or exercise the cultural practice of having grandparents mind their grandchildren during the day, Hong Kong women enjoy a high degree of child-raising support compared to women in Western culture.

 

Just Do it

Hong Kong has a well-deserved international reputation for its can-do attitude and low business barriers. While this is often cited in terms of taxation and business registration, it is also a very prevalent social factor. There’s a reason that we all know someone who came to Hong Kong with empty pockets and made a fortune in the shadow of Lion Rock. Hong Kong is exceptionally welcoming of ambition, self-confidence and aspiration. Some cultures resent the success of others, but in Hong Kong we celebrate it, no matter if you’re a man or a woman.

My message to women who want to advance their careers in Hong Kong is that they don’t need to wait be empowered – just do it. You don’t need to ask for permission. In Hong Kong, we  women are free to lead.

 

Credit: This article first appeared in SCMP on 7 March,2020