Unhelpful husbands a factor in female CEO shortage in Hong Kong

Mar 3, 2014 | South China Morning Post

By Enoch Yiu

Few men in Asia are willing to be househusbands or take on more household chores, a cultural factor that contributes to the smaller number of female chief executives in Hong Kong than in Western countries, according to a recruitment expert.

Only 4 per cent of the chief executives of Hong Kong-listed companies are women, compared with 14 per cent in the United States, according to figures from the Women's Foundation quoted by Christine Greybe, president of DHR International, a US-based headhunting firm.

"In the US or other Western markets, there are some top female CEOs who have a househusband to take care of the household work to support their wives taking up the top jobs," she said. "In Asia, the culture and traditional thinking are different and there are few men willing to do so here."

Greybe said such thinking had led women in Asia to tend to take up more housework and child-care duties than their husbands and that had led to more women quitting their jobs after giving birth in order to focus on family.

Hong Kong law gives new mothers 10 weeks of maternity leave but makes no provision for leave for fathers with new babies. That also made it hard for husbands to lend support with the housework.

"The Hong Kong government should change the law to support fathers willing to take care of their newborns and to support their wives," Greybe said.

She said many companies were open minded about men and women competing for chief executive jobs but there were more male candidates with the capabilities and experience needed for such jobs. She blamed that on the unequal division of housework, which had led to fewer Asian women than men being able to climb up to the level of company vice-president - a stepping stone for chief executives.

At the entry level, she said, there were roughly equal numbers of either gender but women comprised only 30 per cent of those at the vice-president level.

"Only three out of 10 vice-presidents are women," Greybe said. "And then only 4 per cent of chief executives of listed companies are women. There's only a small pool of female candidates capable of competing for chief executives' jobs."

Some companies were reluctant to hire mothers returning to work, she said, because of concerns that women executives - who may have performed very well before they stopped working to take care of their young children - might lack up-to-date knowledge or skill sets.

"The research firm can help these mothers back to work by accessing their skill sets," Greybe said. "But this would need the support of the companies to allow these female executives to have more flexible working hours or to work at home."

She said the government and regulators also had roles to play.

After Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing introduced a code of conduct requirement in December 2012 saying companies should set a policy goal of more balanced board composition in terms of directors' gender and knowledge, Greybe said companies were more aware of the need for headhunting firms to take diversity into account when presenting candidates for senior roles.

"Hong Kong is lagging behind other markets a lot as we only have about 10 per cent of female directors, when other markets have up to 40 per cent," she said. "We hope there would be more improvement as boards with better diversity can help to bring in different opinions and viewpoints to manage companies."

She said that if gender diversity on boards did not improve, Hong Kong might need to follow Norway and some other European countries which had established quota systems requiring a certain percentage of directors to be women.

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