During his keynote address at the HeForShe event to mark International Women’s Day, Matthew Cheung joked that he was the “living manifestation” of HeForShe, because the Chief Secretary for Administration was standing in for Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who was in Beijing at the time.
The event on 6 March was organized by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Hong Kong, and in partnership with Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX). Members of the city’s business community packed the HKEX Connect Hall to consider how the corporate world – and men in particular – can improve the working lives of women.
Cheung said that the Hong Kong Government was committed to promoting women’s advancement.
“Gender equality is vital for Hong Kong’s continued success as business hub,” he said. “Gender equality and female-friendly work environments are key to attracting and retaining the best of talent.”
The Chief Secretary pointed to some improvements in female participation in the workforce in Hong Kong – such as in the police force, which also gained its first female deputy chief last year. He added that the government was looking to increase maternity and paternity leave, and introduce more childcare facilities.
During his introduction, Stephen Ng, HKGCC Chairman, also noted that Hong Kong has much to be proud of, such as the representation of women among solicitors, where the ratio has reached 50%.
“But there is no room for complacency and we should always aim to do better. This is especially true at the board level,” he said.
Schneider Electric was one of the first companies to get involved in the HeForShe campaign. Olivier Blum, the company's Chief HR Officer, told the audience that the company has introduced a global family leave policy, and as sponsors of the Paris Marathon offers the same prize money to female and male winners.
But, Blum explained, one of the biggest impacts came about as a result of a wider transformation programme.
“Our primary goal was to create a company that was far more inclusive.” This meant focusing not just on gender, but also on nationality and disability. Looking at the company's leadership, they saw the need to “move away from having French male engineers in their 50s.”
Just a few years ago, most of the company’s top jobs were based in Paris. Since then, it has opened two more headquarters, in Boston and in Hong Kong, and seen increased participation by women as a result. Previously, women had been less willing to transfer to France to take up a senior role.
“This turned out to be one of the best decisions we made for females,” Blum said.
A panel discussion moderated by Angelina Kwan, Managing Director and Head of Regulatory Compliance at HKEX, discussed what male leaders can do. Luc-Francois Salvador, Executive Chairman for APAC and the Middle East at Capgemini; Allan Zeman, Chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Holdings; Lincoln Leong, CEO, MTR Corporation; and Steve Clark, CEO of Suez Asia, shared their experience and insights.
Leong noted that the environment has changed a great deal recently. “In the MTR's experience, we have a group of executive directors – one third of these are ladies. Ten years ago, that would have been significantly lower.”
Since this shift, the company has found that the retention rate among employees has improved.
Clark also noted the benefits of employing more women. “We firmly believe in gender diversity,” he said. “All the external reports show a company is much more efficient if it is gender diverse – that’s well accepted.”
Suez had long been a male-dominated business, so it began to introduce measures including financial penalties for executives if targets are not met. Clark admitted that he would see a 6% cut in his bonus this year.
Zeman explained that as he grew up in the fashion business surrounded by women he had never thought of a working world that was otherwise. Today, his staff members enjoy a flexible environment.
“In all companies you want the best. We’ve always run our business as a family – we don’t check on our employees as long as they get their job done.”
Salvador said that Capgemini also employs targets, such as a 50% quota for female applicants. And he noted the importance of setting an example: in his own management team of seven people, three are women.
Around the world, the company has introduced policies such as working from home to make it easier for women to work.
Quotas are controversial, and Clark from Suez admitted, “five years ago I would not have believed in positive discrimination.” But seeing the beneficial outcomes of such policies has changed his mind.