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Leaking Pipeline Means Hong Kong Women Still Under-Represented at Senior Levels

Published on Wednesday, 23 Jul 2014
From left to right, Mr. Steven Victorin, Head of Asia Pacific Corporate Banking & Global Head of Corporate Banking Global Subsidiaries at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Mrs. Fern Ngai, CEO of Community Business
The Gender Diversity Benchmark for Asia 2014 is the third study of its kind conducted by Community Business, adopting the same methodology as previous studies conducted in 2009 and 2011. Covering the six markets of China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia

HONG KONG, July 22, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Hong Kong is seeing an encouraging improvement in gender parity across the total workforce and at junior and middle levels, but women are still under-represented in senior positions, according to the study 'Gender Diversity Benchmark for Asia 2014' (GDBA 2014) released today. The lead sponsor of the report is Bank of America Merrill Lynch, as part of its efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.

The study benchmarks the gender diversity of more than 30 multinational companies in six markets across Asia, including Mainland China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore. It is conducted by Community Business, a leading not-for-profit organisation specialising in corporate responsibility and a thought leader on diversity and inclusion in Asia. 

The report reveals that when it comes to the average representation of women in the total workforce and at junior levels, companies in Hong Kong are achieving or exceeding gender parity. The average representation of women in the total workforce in Hong Kong is 50.9%, ranking third in Asia. This compares with 44.3% when the survey was last conducted in 2011. At junior levels the average representation of women is 57.5%, and despite ranking fifth across the region at this level, 83.3% of companies in Hong Kong have 50% or more women at this level. At middle levels too, the average percentage of women continues to be reasonably strong at 45.7%, above the regional average at this level of 39.0%.  

However, women locally continue to face barriers to senior positions with the representation of women in senior management levels at only 29.4%. While higher than the regional average of 24.3%, the biggest leak in the pipeline remains between middle to senior level positions, with an average 35.8% drop in the representation of women between these levels. This puts the city third in Asia, behind Mainland China (35.6%) and Malaysia (34.0%) which rank first and second respectively, but ahead of Singapore in fourth place (23.7%).

Findings show that across the region companies have taken commendable steps to create an enabling environment for women and policies such as flexible working practices are well established in all markets.  This is true in Hong Kong too, although Hong Kong performs below the regional average on a number of the indicators, including maternity leave (87.1 days versus regional average of 101.1 days) and paternity leave (5.0 days versus a regional average of 5.2 days).

The senior executives interviewed and featured in the study generally acknowledged that, based on the findings of this GDBA 2014, the representation of women in senior positions remains low in Asia.  However, for the most part they were optimistic about the future, pointing to the growing recognition of the link between increased gender diversity and enhanced business performance. They highlighted the importance of driving cultural change in organisations from the top, and shared the key role that they are playing -- leading by example and proactively engaging men and women on this issue. 

Commenting on the findings, Fern Ngai, CEO of Community Business said: "Overall we are pleased to see some signs of real progress in this latest study. Of course, much more needs to be done and performance varies across the region. Here in Hong Kong as in other markets, women continue to be under-represented at senior levels in organisations and we need to continue to address this.  However, overall these gradually improving numbers show that moving the needle and achieving greater gender balance, if not gender parity at all levels, is indeed an achievable goal in Hong Kong."

"A diverse workforce is fundamental to the success of our business, providing a broader range of experience and perspective from the best talent available" says Bernhard Steiner, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Asia Pacific Chief Risk Officer, who chairs the company's regional diversity and inclusion council. "This report shows encouraging progress in junior and middle management in Hong Kong and Asia. Ensuring that progress is mirrored in senior leadership roles is not just a women's issue, but I believe should be a leadership priority. We are proud of the progress made to date within our organisation and this report further reinforces our sustained commitment to promote gender diversity across the region." 

Regional Highlights: 

•Encouraging signs of progress: Comparing performance with the 2009 and 2011 studies, there is a general upward trend in all markets with the most noticeable improvements taking place in Mainland China and Malaysia. 
•Strong representation at junior and middle levels: In all markets except India, the average representation of women at junior levels exceeds 50%, whilst in Mainland China, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore, it exceeds 40% at middle levels. 
•Gender parity -- an achievable goal: A significant number of companies are now achieving gender parity at certain levels in their organisations -- showing that this is an increasingly achievable goal. Over half of companies in Mainland China (65.5%) and Malaysia (52.9%) have achieved or exceeded gender parity at middle levels, whilst over a third (35.3%) of companies in Malaysia have done the same at senior levels. 
•Widening gap in performance:  However, the progression is more pronounced in certain markets than others, widening the gap between the best and worst performing countries in the region. Mainland China (35.6%) and Malaysia (34.0%) show the most marked improvement -- particularly in terms of the representation of women at senior levels, whilst Japan (11.0%) and India (10.6%) show nominal change and are barely achieving double digit figures at this level. 
•Regional averages remain low: Despite signs of improvement in certain markets, the overall representation of women at middle and senior levels remains low across the six markets. The regional average at middle levels is 39.0% and this falls to just 24.3% at senior levels. 
•Leaking pipeline an on-going challenge in all markets in Asia: Companies continue to experience a significant loss of women from one level to the next. The average rate of decrease across the region is 30.7% from junior to middle levels and 37.8% from middle to senior levels. The leaking pipeline is a particular issue in India from junior to middle levels (-45.9%) and in Japan from middle to senior levels (-61.3%). 
•Demonstrated commitment to creating enabling environments: Companies have taken commendable steps to create an enabling environment for their women. In particular, maternity leave, paternity leave and flexible work arrangements are offered by virtually all companies in all markets, whilst women's networks, on-ramping support and professional development programmes are also widely embraced by companies.  Companies have taken commendable steps to create an enabling environment for their women. In particular, maternity leave, paternity leave and flexible work arrangements are offered by virtually all companies in all markets, whilst women's networks, on-ramping support and professional development programmes are also widely embraced by companies. 
•Existence of policies and programmes does not necessarily correlate to strong performance: More companies in Japan and India offer support to working parents and professional development programmes for women than in the other markets -- and yet the average representation of women at middle and senior levels in these markets are the lowest. Similarly, companies in Malaysia offer the shortest maternity leave and the least support to women in the form of women's networks, on-ramping support and professional development - yet Malaysia performs well on all data points.

The research is also funded by Secondary Sponsors Brown-Forman and Google.   

 "We were pleased to have had an opportunity to be a Secondary Sponsor of this Gender Diversity Benchmark for Asia 2014 by Community Business. Women are key to the growth and sustainability for our business as well as the countries in which our business operates. That means many of our mental models related to women in the workplace must not only change but it is essential that men play a role in that process." said Ralph de Charbert, Chief Diversity Officer at Brown-Forman.

"This report reminds us that, while the past few years have resulted in positive change for the representation of women at all levels, there's still plenty of room for improvement. Equipped with this data, we can better understand the extent of the challenges for gender diversity in Asia, track progress over time, and be a bigger part of the solution." said Keerthana Mohan, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Google.

The table below shows the average representation of women (%) at different levels -- on a regional basis as well as the best and worst performing geographies:

 

Total Workforce %
& ranking

Junior Levels %
& ranking

Middle Levels %
& ranking

Senior Levels %
& ranking

REGIONAL AVERAGE

47.5%

56.3%

39.0%

24.3%

Mainland China

56.7 (2)

64.9 (1)

49.6 (2)

35.6 (1)

Hong Kong

50.9 (3)

57.5 (5)

45.7 (3)

29.4 (3)

India

26.6 (6)

30.3 (6)

16.4 (6)

10.6 (6)

Japan

42.6 (5)

59.2 (3)

28.4 (5)

11.0 (5)

Malaysia

58.1 (1)

63.0 (2)

50.3 (1)

34.0 (2)

Singapore

48.2 (4)

58.5 (4)

40.6 (4)

23.7 (4)

 

Dedicated to progressing discussion on gender issues and border topics of diversity & inclusion (D&I) in the workplace, Community Business will hold its bi-annual regional Diversity & Inclusion in Asia Conference on 11 & 12 November 2014 in Hong Kong. This Conference, since its debut in 2005, has become the primary forum for discussion on D&I issues as they relate to Asia -- with an established reputation for bringing together the most inspirational and informed speakers on the subject and pushing the boundaries of discussion. For the first time, Community Business offers a programme of sessions and activities on Day 1 of the Conference around the gender topics. This Day 1 programme is designed specifically for those looking to leverage the competitive advantage that female talent brings to leadership and organisational success in Asia.  For more information, http://programme.communitybusiness.org/diasiaconf2014/. 

 

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