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What’s keeping Hong Kong’s glass ceiling so high?

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Despite the fact that more than half of Hong Kong’s workforce is made up of women, they remain poorly represented at senior management level.

This is backed up by a comprehensive report entitled the Female Talent Pipeline Study – ironically released on International Women’s Day – published by the University of Hong Kong and Meraki Executive Search & Consulting.

“We think of Hong Kong as an international city with a global outlook, and yet this gender bias suggests a much more traditional mindset. And testament to this is the fact that many firms don’t see the disparity as an issue. More than half of the Hong Kong companies engaged in the study are not tracking female talent pipeline data,” Kirti Lad, executive director of Meraki Executive Search & Consulting, told the SCMP.

The report surveyed more than 200 companies employing more than 200,000 Hong Kong people. The key takeaway was the participation rate of women drops significantly as they rise up the ranks – with women accounting for just 29% of senior management positions, despite making up 53% of Hong Kong’s workforce.

One relocation company Human Resources interviewed recently revealed that at senior board level one of the three representatives was a woman – although this turned out to be the daughter of the male CEO.

“The corporate setting has to change – I don’t think it works any more. The work structure we know today was created by men for men. Women now work in that environment. We need to fundamentally think about how organisations are structured, and how we develop a structure of inclusion,” Lad said.

“Many companies don’t even recognise they have a problem with the management of their female talent pipeline. They feel they are doing an acceptable job because they are doing better than industry competitors.”

Lad believes a significant part of the problem is ingrained social attitudes, where a good employee is someone committed to long and rigid hours in the workplace.

This does not fit well for many women who also need to meet the demands of family on their time – and who could benefit from a more flexible working arrangement.

“As long as companies continue promoting these old-fashioned ways of assessing potential, women will never catch up,” Lad said.

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