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HR Seminar Hong Kong: Women in Leadership

Elliott Scott HR Hong Kong recently held a ‘Women in Leadership’ seminar in partnership with Arcadia Consulting and LinkedIn. We welcomed four fantastic panelists to discuss the progress and the challenges of developing female leaders and provide insights into the impact this can have on hiring, development, retention, performance and culture. 

 

Led by Joanne Ford, Principal Consultant at Arcadia Consulting, our panelists included: Nancy Lee - Head of HR, Schroders; Louise Moat - COO Investment Bank, Nomura, Asia ex-Japan; Adrian Warr - Managing Director, Edelman and Kathryn Weaver - Head of Hong Kong, Lewis Silkin LLP. 

 

The panel kicked off by addressing both historic and recent progress within society and organisations.

 

Progress 

Gender equality is at the forefront of today’s media and company agendas. As a current hot topic, Joanne asked ‘have we seen action and movement, or is this talk, just talk?’ The panel responded that given how long gender equality has been in discussion, they felt that significant progress has only been made recently. For example, the transformative ‘Me Too’ movement has helped raise awareness of sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. Certain behaviors are no longer overlooked to the degree that they have been in the past. 

 

However Adrian is worried that we are not making progress as quickly as we could. If they really wanted to, leaders and organisations could bring about change at a faster rate, but many are currently in a phase where action is limited because people are still worried about rocking the boat. He highlighted this by mentioning how in World War II women quickly entered the workforce and took up roles, proving that when we really want to we can effect change very quickly. 

 

The discussion then moved onto the challenges that may be impacting progression.

 

Challenges 

Kathryn outlined 3 main challenges women face in the workforce: ​

 

  • Men – Historically the majority of leadership roles are filled by men. There is a need for more male advocates for women in these roles.
  • Women – Women need to address their attitudes toward themselves. Many fall victim to imposter syndrome and doubt their own capabilities. This can cause them to believe they are not suitable for opportunities and may not take enough credit for their personal performance. There is also a need for women to support each other more, creating role models and paving the way for future generations.
  • Motherhood – There is a bias around the attitude of mothers returning to work and the belief that they are not as motivated or focused and might not be willing to travel for work. Mothers also face higher levels of scrutiny on their attendance and performance. In Hong Kong specifically there is a lack of flexibility in the workplace and women can get stuck juggling parenting and their career which can cause them to feel like they fail in both areas. Women in Hong Kong have one of the shortest statutory maternity leaves in the world at 12 weeks. Due to this short maternity leave and the prevalence of domestic helpers in Hong Kong, the impact on a woman’s career is lessened. For example, in 2018the percentage of women in senior leadership roles in Hong Kong was 29%, compared to 22% in the UK where statutory maternity leave can be 52 weeks. ​

The panel then moved to discuss what actions could be taken to mitigate these challenges?

 

Actions 

Nancy spoke to the corporate perspective, and what actions businesses can take. Companies need to look at their pipeline of talent, ensuring that women are fairly represented in hiring pools. Second is the need for policies around flexible working – in Hong Kong in particular the attitude towards part time or flexible work is unfavourable. This attitude is due to the availability of domestic helpers, which causes an assumption that people shouldn’t have to work part time. 

 

She also mentioned the impact of public statements. A public commitment to gender equality is powerful as it drives accountability, commitment and change.

 

Nancy emphasised that change must come from the top down and be demonstrated by the company’s leaders. Louise reiterated this. Senior leaders not only set the formal policies of a business but they also form the culture. It is imperative that leaders create the right culture through their habits and behaviors.  

 

Louise expressed that the CEO must have an equality objective and the only way she feels they will take notice of this is for them to be remunerated on the basis that they achieve it. For example, senior leaders should be given strict targets (as opposed to absolute numbers) of having women in leadership positions. Starting from the top, creating the right culture, together with the right policies, she says will inch us closer to eventual equality.  

 

However, Adrian highlighted that people can easily spot the difference between a leader that is incentivised to have equality versus one that genuinely cares. Ideally Adrian stated the goal should be for leaders to realise that not only is gender equality the right thing to do for business, but it is also just the right thing to do.

 

Given Louise’s mention of targets, Joanne asked the panel their thoughts on quotas.

 

The panel discussed that there is the potential for a positive impact if implemented for a designated period of time (e.g. 5 years), making it a temporary adjustment. The reason for this need stems from the habitual pattern to choose predecessors that are similar to yourself. So if it’s all men in senior management positions, they will most likely choose a male predecessor.  A quota could break the cycle, and allow for examples of successful women in leadership roles to be seen.

 

When the panel were taking questions from the audience it was asked ‘what can small businesses who don’t have large budgets do to improve gender equality?’ This is where there should be a focus on culture rather than paid benefits. Small businesses have the opportunity to actively set a cultural tone early and pave the way by offering flexible working arrangements from the outset. There is a high level of visibility in small firms, so leadership can ensure they are setting an example. 

 

Following the discussion our guests continued the conversation over drinks and canapés, chatting with the teams from Elliott Scott HR, Arcadia Consulting and LinkedIn. This year we will be hosting more new and exciting HR seminars. If you would be interested in attending, follow us on LinkedIn and keep an eye on our events page.

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