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With an average age of 58, same as 2019, 67% of new directors are still active executives.

Female representation in the boardrooms of top 50 Hang Seng-listed companies has reached a record high, according to findings from Heidrick & Struggles' latest research. It also revealed a preference for previous board experience and diverse areas of expertise as boards take on a more front-line role in shaping, supporting and pushing their organisation’s purpose and growth.

Overall, the top 50 Hang Seng-listed companies added 42 new directors in 2020, 20% more than the year prior. Of these, a quarter of the new directors appointed in 2020 were women, compared to only 6% the previous year. 

With an average age of 58, same as 2019, 67% of new directors are still active executives.

This year saw fewer current and former CEOs, but more CFOs joining Hong Kong boards -- a continuation of C-suite preference that was seen in Hong Kong. Notably, more than two-thirds (69%) of directors had prior board experience compared to just half of them the year before, indicating that companies are seeking experienced board members to help them make sound and swift game-changing decisions.

 “2020 is the year where board effectiveness was put to the test. Directors found themselves on the frontline in a complex macro environment where new perspectives are needed to help companies maintain agility. This year’s results are significant as they show the incredible progress of gender diversity in Hong Kong’s boardrooms,” said David Hui, Head of CEO & Board of Directors Practice of Heidrick & Struggles Hong Kong.

In an increasingly complex and nuanced world, boards are also appointing directors with expertise beyond the fundamentals. New areas of expertise including digital or social media experience, diversity and inclusion, and sustainability are gaining importance as boards are increasingly expected to address topics that speak to a company’s mission and purpose. Surprisingly, with cybersecurity taking centrestage this year, it is yet to be seen if Hong Kong boards will bring in directors with such knowledge.

This report is part of Heidrick & Struggles’ study of trends in board composition in countries around the world. Produced by the CEO & Board Practice, these reports track and analyse trends in non-executive director appointments to the boards of the largest companies in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and more. 

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