Asia is playing catch-up in the race towards greater gender diversity on company boards and in the workplace, though notable progress has been made, with a report out of Hong Kong showing the good and the bad.
Despite growing research on the benefits of gender diverse boards — including improved company performance, sensitivity to consumer trends, and stronger governance — Asian companies lag international counterparts in placing women in executive positions, according to the latest Women on Boards Hong Kong Report released on Wednesday.
The report coincides with International Women's Day and also offers a bit of hope.
For the first time since the study was launched in 2009, one-fifth of Hong Kong boards achieved 20 percent or higher female participation. There was also a decline in all-male boards.
The representation of women on the boards of Hong Kong's leading companies increased marginally to 12.4 percent in 2017, after stagnating at 11.1 percent for the past two years, according to the report, which analysed Hong Kong's top companies listed on the Hang Seng Index (HSI). The report looked at data between Jan. 3, 2016 to Jan. 2, 2017.
The study was released by Community Business, a Hong Kong-based not-for-profit organization promoting responsible and inclusive business standards in Asia, and launched in partnership with global executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.
"Two ongoing issues are whether capable female leaders are being promoted to board positions, and whether there is a big enough pool of senior female leaders who are truly board-ready," said Steve Mullinjer, regional leader for Asia Pacific at Heidrick & Struggles.
He recognized that boards with a "good mix of nationalities, age groups, gender and cultural backgrounds, as well as skills and experience, can lead to better decision making and improve a company's bottom line. "